Amazon’s smart home security division Ring has unveiled a flying camera that launches if sensors detect a potential home break-in.

It is designed to only activate when residents are out, works inside, and is limited to one floor of a building.

Owners will be given a smartphone alert to let them see the footage.

The company is not calling it a drone, but to all intents and purposes it is. The device is likely to spark fresh privacy concerns about the brand.

“The Always Home Cam is an incredibly ambitious device that will seem like something from a science fiction movie for many consumers,” commented Ben Wood from the consultancy CCS Insight.

“I expect it to generate a huge amount of interest from technology enthusiasts who are typically the people who embrace smart home technology first. However, it is also likely to provoke a huge discussion around privacy and the future role of technology in the home.”

Amazon sad that privacy had been “top of mind” when the machine was designed.

“It only reports when it’s in motion, and when it’s not in motion it actually sits in a dock where it’s physically blocked from even being able to report,” explained a spokeswoman.

“In addition to that, it’s built to be loud, so it’s really privacy that you can hear.”

The device is set to cost $250 (£192) when it goes on sale.

Ring’s business has previously come in for criticism because it has encouraged users to share their recordings with the police. This has prompted claims that it is normalising surveillance technologies that can intrude on people’s lives.

The division claims its existing products – including video doorbells, indoor video cameras, and smart alarm systems – have helped make neighbourhoods safer.

Smart door bell market graphic
Smart door bell market graphic

Global consumer spending on smart home products is expected to fall about 15% this year to $44bn (£24.5bn) due to the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to market research firm Strategy Analytics. But it predicts a rebound in 2021.

Amazon’s rivals have previously accused it of anti-competitive behaviour by selling its products at a lower price than they cost to make, in order to secure market share.

When questioned about sales of the firm’s Echo speakers in July, chief executive Jeff Bezos said the firm did not lose money on the range when they were sold at “list price”, but acknowledged they were often on promotion at a lower cost.

Smart speakers

Other announcements included a revamp for the firm’s Echo and smaller Echo Dot smart speakers, which now come in a spherical designs.

The devices can now recognise when a child is speaking to them and adapts their response accordingly – for example selecting “kid-friendly” songs when asked to play music.

The firm said that a new computer chip inside would allow more artificial intelligence-related tasks could be processed locally, meaning responses to commands and questions could be given more quickly.

It added that Alexa’s voice would soon sound more natural.

And it said the virtual assistant would soon become better at recognising when customers were talking to it and when they were talking to each other, after it has been activated by a wake word. This should help it avoid responding to speech that is not directed at it.

Amazon Echo is forecast to have 11.6 million smart speaker users in the UK by the end of 2020, according to research firm eMarketer. By contrast, it says the nearest competitor Google Home will have 3.7 million.

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