August 29, 2019

Have you seen how big voice search apps and technology have become in the last few years? Now units like Alexa are affordable and easy to pick up and get started with. If you want to know a bit more about the technology and how it works, then check out this article. Firstly, there are a few key differences between Alexa and Echo, while both of them really go hand in hand with each other. One is the actual software that does all the tasks, while the other is the unit that hosts the software. So we’ll have a little look at both of them in this article before going a bit deeper into how Alexa actually works.

Alexa and Echo are great additions to your home. You can do a lot with them that you can on a normal home computer, like search for something, or ask it to play music of your choice. Alexa has the one added benefit of being completely hands-free. That means you can ask it to do all sorts of tasks for you, and it’ll take care of it. That makes it a great addition to your kitchen if you like cooking and don’t want to get a normal computer messy. Alexa could help with your recipe, or play some music while you cook. That’s not all it’s good for, it’s just one of many ideas that could make your home life easier.

What is Alexa?

Alexa is the name of the voice recognition and search software that Echo and other devices use. While you might refer to your tabletop unit as “Alexa”, that’s actually an Echo. Alexa is the software inside it, and the voice you hear (although you can actually change this to another voice if you want).

So first and foremost, Alexa is a voice recognition and search software solution. You don’t actually have to use it on an Echo, either. Alexa voice search is available on phones as well as other devices. But for the purpose of this article, we’ll assume you’re using an Echo. So how does Alexa work?

How does Alexa and Echo Work?

Let’s start with the Echo unit itself. This cylindrical piece of kit hosts Alexa. It might just look like a speaker, but it’s much more than that. You plug an Echo unit into the wall so it works by normal mains electricity. You’ll then want to set it up to access your Wi-Fi network. This is important to get Alexa working. While your voice is captured by the Echo unit, much of the work is happening remotely online, including all the music it might play or the information it might serve you when you ask it a question. This isn’t stored on the Echo unit itself, it’s stored on the internet. Oftentimes, Alexa will just be asking Google a question. All of this needs a connection to the internet to work. While an offline version of Alexa might be in the works, it’s not here yet. So if you haven’t got Wi-Fi, you might be a bit stuck.

Echo has some quality microphone and Alexa can also work out what is being said over and above the music it’s transmitting (or other sounds). That means it can still recognize your commands and help you even while there’s a lot of external noise, which is helpful.

If you want to know a bit more about what sort of hardware is in the Echo unit, here’s a quick overview: There’s a small digital media processor (ARM Cortex A8), 4 gigabytes of flash memory, 256 Mb of RAM and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access modules. Other than a power management circuit, that’s about it. The rest is all stored remotely on what’s known as the cloud.

If you haven’t heard about the cloud already, where have you been? It’s a way of accessing information and data remotely over the internet. All the heavy stuff is stored online and can just be accessed remotely by Alexa, rather than having to be downloaded and stored on each individual unit. As you can probably see, the Echo doesn’t have enough storage space for all that, yet you can access to millions of gigs of music and much more within a few seconds. That’s all stored on the cloud.

You can also get Echo units with remote controls, but they don’t all have this. Everything else is done by voice control, and Alex has access to some highly sophisticated voice recognition software which can recognize commands in all sorts of accents.

One thing to remember with Echo is that it can’t go through additional Wi-Fi security protocols. That means you can’t set them up in public Wi-Fi areas unless they have no security on them.

When you speak to Alexa, it’ll interpret your commands then send them to a different web service to serve your results. Simple questions will be sent to a search engine and then read out to you, requests for music will be sent to their music service, and so on. You can also connect Alexa to your smartphone via Bluetooth and control it that way. There’s an app on the website which you can use to adjust settings since there aren’t really any buttons (or a screen) to do so on the Echo unit itself. You can also set different user accounts up for your system and switch between them, so it can remember different preferences and things like playlists.

You can also connect to third-party services like Uber, as well as a range of others. This makes Alexa your go-to hub for all sorts of stuff. Are you a fan of Alexa? Is it right for you, or would you rather stick to traditional computers? Either way, Alexa sales are on the rise—and they could be the future of computing.

About the Author James S

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