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01 August 2017

Facebook’s smart speaker for video calling sounds really creepy

Image: Camus/AP/REX/Shutterstock

We now know a lot more about Facebook’s hardware ambitions.

The social network is working not one, but two, connected speakers for the home, including one equipped with cameras, microphones, and a feature that will “scan for people,” according to a new report in Bloomberg. 

The device, which Facebook is reportedly testing, is a touchscreen-enabled speaker meant to help people make video calls from their house. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports the gadget will come with a large touchscreen between 12 and 15 inches and will be equipped with an array of speakers, microphones, and a wide-angle camera to enable video calling. 

The story also notes that it’s not clear what the underlying software will be — Facebook has apparently considered using a version of Android and building its own operating system. 

Here’s how Bloomberg describes the software [emphasis ours]:

Facebook is testing a feature that would allow the camera to automatically scan for people in its range and lock onto them, one of the people said. For example, the camera could zoom onto a painting that a child brought home from school to show to a parent away on a business trip. Facebook has also been developing a 360 degree camera for the device, but people familiar with the matter say it’s unlikely to be ready in time for the initial launch.

Combine that with the voice recognition capabilities described in an earlier report on the device from DigiTimes and, well, it sounds more than a little creepy. 

Separate from that, the report says the social network is also developing a standalone speaker similar to the Amazon Echo and Google Home. 

Facebook wants to sell the gadget “in the low $100 range” according to the story in order to be more competitive with Amazon and Google. (Amazon’s full-sized Echo costs $179.99 and Google sells its Home speaker for $129.)

Both devices are being developed by Facebook’s Building 8, the social network’s new divisions being lead by former Googler Regina Dugan, who previously lead the Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group at the search giant. 

The report says Facebook plans to announce the larger touchscreen device next spring, but that the company could still kill the smaller standalone speaker before then.

A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment on the report.

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