The assistive technology (AT) world rejoices when a consumer product is released with big AT potential. Price, access, and reliable technical support are just a few of many reasons why consumer products are welcomed with arms wide open. For example, since its release consider what the iPad has brought to the AT arena. It opened up a whole new avenue for people with disabilities to help them at work, school, and home through thousands of apps and tools. The iPad (and other iOS supporting devices) is so powerful there are whole websites dedicated to the device’s AT potential!

In this blog series, we will explore the new AT star, the Amazon Echo. It was released November of 2014 with huge assistive technology (AT) promise. Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker users control with their voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more.

Everyday since its release, the Echo developes more and more AT possibilities! (Check-out this Amazon review of Echo to see how a man with Parkinson’s disease used the device to stay more independent and active.) There are a growing number of applications, websites, and devices that work with Echo to expand its amazing capabilities. However, before we dive into that, lets learn a little bit about what Amazon Echo can do for users straight out of the box.

Photo of the Amazon Echo. It is a black cylinder about 1 foot tall and 3 inches in diameter.

Here are 10 things you need to know about Amazon Echo’s built-in capabilities:

1. Alexa, the brain behind Echo, is similar to personal assistants like Apple’s Siri and Window’s Cortana. Alexa is built in the cloud, so it is always getting smarter. The more people use Echo, the more it adapts to their speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.

2. Echo gives user’s hands-free voice-control. Straight out of the box users can ask Alexa to answer questions, report the news, report traffic and weather, give information on local businesses, tell time, provide sports scores and schedules, and much more.

3. Echo can hear users from across the room with far-field voice recognition, even when the room is noisy or music is playing.

4. Echo can play music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and more using just by asking Alexa.

5. Using your voice, Echo can help users can stay productive by doing things like writing grocery and to-do lists.

6. Echo can help people remember important things by adding events to user’s calendars and through setting timers.

7. Users can order items off from Amazon by using their voice. Gone are the days of asking for rides or trudging through poor weather to get to the store.

8. Echo will read audiobooks, help with math problems, spell out and define words, look up information on any subject, read recipes and more. Echo is the perfect study buddy and problem solver.

9. The devices fills the room with immersive, 360º omni-directional audio.

10. Echo’s Skills add even more capabilities like ordering a pizza from Domino’s, requesting a ride from Uber, playing games like Jeopardy, and more. New skills are being added all the time. Users can also see ratings and reviews to learn what other customers are saying about the thousands of skills available in the Alexa App.

If you’d like to see it in work, check out this wonderfully cheesy video!