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New Alexa feature for Echo devices is both handy and terrifying

Updated Dec 6th, 2022 3:37PM EST
A security camera next to an Amazon Echo Dot on a table
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Back in September at its fall hardware event, Amazon revealed a new feature that would allow Echo devices to detect motion in a room using ultrasound technology. According to The Verge, the feature began rolling out late last week. Amazon states on its help site that the ultrasound motion detection feature is only available on 4th generation devices. If you own an older Echo or Echo Dot model, you won’t be able to use this new Alexa feature on your device until you upgrade.

This new Alexa feature uses ultrasound technology

As Amazon explains, some Alexa features rely on ultrasound motion detection in order to function. If you turn on an occupancy routine, your Echo will emit ultrasound waves and use the microphones to detect motion. If any motion is detected, Alexa will know that someone is in the room.

You can set occupancy routines to trigger when you enter or leave a room. For example, you can set a routine that turns on the lights and starts playing music as soon as you enter a room. You can also set a routine that turns the lights back off when the Echo stops detecting your presence.

The latest Echo Show devices use computer vision to detect whether or not anyone is in the room, but they have cameras. That’s why Echo and Echo Dot devices have to use ultrasound instead.

How does ultrasound motion detection work?

Amazon explains ultrasound motion detection in more detail on its help site, if you’re curious:

Occupancy Routines, and some Alexa features, rely on motion detection to determine whether a room is occupied. When you turn on an Occupancy Routine or feature, some Echo devices emit ultrasound, and use the device microphones to detect motion near the device. Alexa interprets such motion to mean that someone might be in the room. Motion detection is designed to detect major motion such as walking around the room. It might not detect minor motion, such as waving your hand, or sitting still and reading. A routine also can start when no occupancy is detected, for example, to turn off lights when the room is empty.

Amazon says Echo devices don’t emit ultrasound until you turn on a feature that uses the technology. If you do not use any of those Alexa features, your device won’t use ultrasound to find you. Also, you can’t hear or perceive ultrasound. Furthermore, the use of ultrasound occurs on device. Therefore, the Echo doesn’t send any of the audio that it collects to the cloud.

Other notable new Alexa features

Every month, Amazon shares a roundup on its Alexa blog covering all of the new features it added. In October, Alexa gained the ability to quickly move audio between devices on the fly. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the other features Amazon introduced last month:

  • You can ask Alexa to play “The Two-Minute Drill” for a short pregame show about any NFL team.
  • “Alexa, Play Something on Netflix” will launch a movie or show you might like on Fire TV devices.
  • “Alexa, open TikTok” opens the TikTok TV app, and “Alexa, play TikTok” starts playing videos.
  • “Alexa, what are my deals?” lets you start shopping for great deals on top brands.

Amazon will update its “What’s New with Alexa?” blog once again early next month. We suspect that ultrasound motion detection will make the list, among other additions.

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.