Amazon has announced that Alexa’s Conversation Mode, first teased a year ago, launches today on Echo Show 10 devices. The new feature allows for more natural back and forth interaction with Alexa without needing to use the wake word before each request. This goes far beyond Alexa’s existing Follow-up mode, which simply keeps Alexa listening after every response, by using audio and visual detection to determine when speech is directed at the Echo device, which Amazon says “represents a major milestone in voice AI.”
To begin using Conversation Mode, say “Alexa, join the conversation” and the Echo device will begin listening and respond when a question is directed at it. Conversations between people can continue as usual and Alexa will only respond when it detects that the speaker is facing the Echo device. This is done by using the camera in the Echo Show to detect when a face in its field of view is looking at the Echo, which Amazon calls visual device directedness detection. Additionally, the Echo uses its array of microphones in what Amazon calls audio-based device voice activity detection to help determine when the speaker is directing questions towards Alexa.
While Conversation Mode is active, a blue border will surround the Echo Show screen with the usual light blue listening bar at the bottom. Alexa will automatically exit conversation mode if there is no interaction with it “for a short period of time.” Alternatively, you can simply look at the Echo device and say “Leave the conversation” to manually end conversation mode, which returns the Echo to only listen for its wake word.
The feature is said to be launching today on Echo Show 10 devices, however, it does not appear to be working on my 2nd-gen Echo Show 10. It’s unclear if the feature is limited to the newer 3rd-gen Echo Show 10 or if it is still rolling out to devices. I suspect it is the latter since, when Amazon demoed the feature last year, it was done using a 2nd-gen Echo Show 10.
According to TechHive, Conversation Mode is rolloing out only to 3rd-gen Echo Show 10 devices in the “coming weeks” with no word on when, or if, it will be available on other Echo Show devices.