Amazon is working on developing a wearable device that can determine a person’s emotions just by the tone of their voice.
The device, named Dylan, is being developed by Lab126, the hardware development group behind Amazon’s Fire phone and Echo smart speaker, and the Alexa voice software team, Bloomberg reported.
How the device works
The device is designed to work with a smartphone app and has microphones paired with software that can tell a user’s emotional state from the sound of his or her voice. Documents seen by Bloomberg said that Amazon hopes Dylan could eventually be able to advise the wearer about how to more effectively interact with others.
In addition, Amazon hopes the device could record emotions such as happiness, excitement and fear. This is a big deal because recording emotions was once considered impossible, but new technology and artificial intelligence are able to discern human emotions from studying people’s faces.
With Dylan, Amazon is taking head on companies such as Microsoft Corp., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and IBM Corp., among others that are developing technologies designed to derive emotional states from images, audio data and other inputs.
The Observer website explained that, for example, if Dylan detects that a person is nervous before a big presentation, “it could provide resources for you on how to cope. It will also be compatible with a smartphone app, presumably meaning it will work with Android and iOS devices.”
Early beta testing of the device, which Amazon describes as a health and wellness gadget, has started. However, it is not known when the device will hit the market, or if it will ever be sold commercially.
Bloomberg reported that Amazon declined to comment on the matter; however a person familiar with the development but unauthorized to speak with the media confirmed the testing of Dylan. “A beta testing program is underway, this person said, though it’s unclear whether the trial includes prototype hardware, the emotion-detecting software or both,” it was reported.
News about the development comes months after Amazon sought a patent for “systems and methods for identifying human emotions and/or mental health states based on analyses of audio inputs and/or behavioral data collected from computing devices.”
At the time, it was envisaged that Alexa could even listen for crying users and label them as experiencing an “emotional abnormality,” although it was unclear how Alexa would be able to detect whether someone was crying from distress or relief.
Amazon’s other forays into the health market
Amazon is betting big on voice recognition and voice assistants in healthcare. Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer, Jeff Bezos was quoted saying that more than 100 million Alexa devices had been sold since the Echo launched in 2014, despite there being no visible demand for the device.
Recently, we reported that Amazon had doubled the number of research scientists working on Alexa over the past year. Meanwhile, internal sources have confirmed that there is now a dedicated “Health & Wellness” division. The online retail giant is also working on piloting projects where Alexa-enabled devices can be strategically placed in a healthcare institution to assist patients or medical professionals.
Amazon also unveiled HIPAA compliant software that allows developers to build the Alexa skills that make it possible for users to employ the voice assistant to transmit and receive protected health information as part of an invite-only program.
The elephant in the room
Now with the development of Dylan, Amazon is taking its involvement in the health industry a notch higher. However, there is a big elephant in the room: the issue of privacy.
There are concerns that Amazon’s Echo stores all the information it records on a file and a wearable could become more intrusive. That Amazon is in the retail sector heightens concern that it could use the information it has gathered from users for advertising purposes.
Amazon’s shareholders recently voted against two proposals to limit the sales of this technology to government entities such as law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union campaigned against the proposal arguing that the sale of Amazon’s facial recognition tech to government agencies “fundamentally alters the balance of power between government and individuals, arming governments with unprecedented power to track, control, and harm people,” the TechCrunch website reported.