Amazon’s new wristband to tell users to “Calm Down”

Amazon has come storming into the wearables market, today announcing the launch of its new Amazon Halo: a wristband (equipped with two microphones, among various other sensors) that is capable of measuring your body fat — and, perhaps startlingly to some, “analyzing energy and positivity in a customer’s voice”.

The feature, dubbed “Tone”, will help customers “better understand how they may sound to others, helping improve their communication and relationships” says Amazon. (If their stress is caused by having their $2 hazard pay cut, even as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ net worth hits $200 billion, the Amazon Halo sadly won’t be able to help. It might be able to tell them to moderate their voice though).

Speech samples are processed on the device, rather than in the cloud, Amazon — which is making robust privacy a key up-sell for the offering — said, and all data that is sent to the cloud is encrypted in transit and at rest.

As a security whitepaper notes: “All customer identifiers are one-way hashed with a secret key to ensure there is no way to map stored health data back to the customer who recorded it. This means that none of the health data collected by Halo can be tied back to a customer and the health data cannot be combined with or correlated with any other data Amazon might store about that customer.”

The Amazon Halo band and app. Credit: BusinessWire.

The move comes as Gartner forecasts that worldwide end-user spending on wearable devices will total $52 billion (£39 billion) in 2020 alone, and as Google’s FitBit acquisition runs into regulatory headwinds.

How does Amazon Halo’s “Tone” Work?

Maulik Majmudar, M.D, the principle medical officer for Amazon Halo, explained how the technology works in a blog published August 27: “Tone is powered by advanced machine learning-based speech processing technologies.

“The Amazon Halo Band and Halo app use voice detection algorithms to pick up speech, remove background noise, and optimize battery life. Our AI analyzes qualities of the customer’s voice such as pitch, intensity, tempo, and rhythm to predict how others would perceive and describe the customer’s tone of voice, which creates a summary you can see and use to identify trends within your life.”

What Else Can It Do?

The Amazon Halo Band and 6 months of Halo membership are available for $64.99 in the US today (iOS and Android) and also feature sleep and activity tracking. (Computer Business Review is checking on European availability).

The wrist band can also measure things like skin temperature, motion, and heart rate to provide users with insights into their health. Using their phone camera, users can also take a series of photographs that allow the Amazon Halo to build a profile of their body fat that is “nearly twice as accurate as leading at-home smart scales” Amazon claims.

Amazon — which has faced privacy pressure over its retention of Alexa voice recordings and AWS AI training sets — insists that privacy protections are robust; customers can download or delete their data at any time directly from the app. The Tone feature can also be turned off or muted, the company said.

“Tone is enabled by creating a personal voice profile, after which it begins capturing short samples of speech and providing insights and daily recaps”, Amazon notes. “Speech samples are always analyzed locally on the customer’s phone and automatically deleted after processing”.

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