Amazon is trying to make sure that when an Alexa device wakes up, it’s because you really called out “Alexa.”
It’s announcing a new feature today called “Cloud-Based Wake Word Verification,” which basically lets a device double-check that you really said “Alexa” and not just a word that sounds similar. The feature is meant to improve third-party Alexa devices, by opening up the same kind of voice verification system that makes Amazon’s Echo so reliable.
Right now, third-party Alexa devices might only do a single, on-device check to see if someone’s said “Alexa.” But with Wake Word Verification, the device can then send the audio up to Amazon’s servers to confirm that it’s really hearing the right word.
Amazon has the feature set up so that it won’t slow down Alexa’s response time. Alexa will still start up and begin listening when the device is initially triggered. But if the cloud verification fails, Alexa will shut down and the light will turn off, so that you don’t suddenly hear a nonsensical response to a question you never asked.
Echo devices already use a similar system, which is part of why they have so few accidental wake ups. Today’s announcement just opens up a similar service to third parties.
Wake Word Verification isn’t suddenly appearing on every device that has Alexa, however. Amazon says that third-party devices will require an update. And so far, only a single device has it: the Ecobee4 smart thermostat, which was announced two weeks ago.