If you were watching the big game yesterday, you probably noticed that the word Alexa turned up not once or twice, but ten times during Amazon’s Echo commercial slot. With 90 seconds packed with “Alexa” calling, we thought our Echo Dot and Amazon Tap at home would have lit up constantly – but they didn’t!
Amazon’s brilliantly executed Super Bowl commercial had just the right mix of humor and seriousness for ninety seconds of entertainment!
The folks over at Amazon knew that having a popular commercial that featured the wake word for Alexa multiple times could cause them a lot of grief. Yes, having millions of viewers sitting in front of their televisions with their Echo devices nearby would spell disaster for Amazon’s servers.
Picture this – Alexa wakes up each time a request is made and then sends a request to the server. That’s ten requests multiplied by the number of people watching the Super Bowl with their Echo speaker in the same room! And with Amazon’s variety of devices the company’s servers could really take a hit – so something had to be done.
Jeff Bezos (owner of Amazon and the richest person alive) and his team were well aware of this issue long before the first Echo device hit the market. In fact, they filed for a patent in September 2014 for what they call acoustic fingerprinting technology. There were two methods of preventing Alexa from responding – sending a snippet of sound to the Echo at a frequency inaudible to human ears OR comparing live commercials to predetermined samples of commercials.
It would appear that Amazon is employing the first method – by sending Echo devices a modified version of the wake word that includes tiny bits of sound in the spaces in between. This isn’t any ordinary sound though – within the range of 3000 Hz to 6000 Hz, the sounds would not be heard by human ears but Alexa powered devices can distinguish those commands as commercial wake word. Neat!
The company also said that they can create an audio fingerprint of any mention the cloud based assistant might receive on popular TV shows and movies – making a pre-emptive blocking of false positives much easier. The company says it can stop a little under 90% of devices from accidentally activating due to the wake word being used unintentionally.
The former method was discovered over a year ago by a a Reddit enthusiast who analyzed the audio tracks from Amazon’s commercials after he noticed his devices staying silent while they played. He then checked the frequencies of each part of the track and compared them to the rest – discovering Amazon’s secret trick in the process.
Amazon’s representative was cagey when pressed for more details on how the company handles situations like these and they only stated that the company modified advertisements in order to ensure that they wouldn’t accidentally activate unnecessarily. Regardless of how they’re managing such a feat, this clearly illustrates how Amazon’s innovation helps them stay a step ahead of the competition and helps make their customers lives a lot easier.