Friday Five: Amazon launches child-friendly speaker in UK

Zone’s Ross Basham handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Amazon launches kid-friendly speaker in UK

Amazon is launching a child-friendly version of its Echo Dot smart speaker in the UK. The speaker — available with either a panda or tiger design — is billed as a learning tool, allowing children “to have fun and learn with Alexa”. It will have parental controls to allow parents to block things such as explicit lyrics and set time limits.

The Echo Dot Kids was released in the US several years ago and has run into trouble with privacy campaigners and child protection groups. They filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, saying that while the device offered parental controls, it did not offer control over how Amazon interacts with their children’s data.

2. New ‘right to repair’ rules come into effect

Manufacturers must make home products such as dishwashers and washing machines easier to repair under new standards that came into effect yesterday. The new energy efficiency rules are designed to tackle ‘premature obsolescence’ — a short lifespan deliberately built into an appliance to make consumers buy new ones.

Manufacturers are now legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time so that electrical appliances can be fixed easily. It is hoped the rules will extend the lifespan of products by up to 10 years, thereby reducing the 1.5m tonnes of electrical waste generated in the UK every year.

3. Facebook is training robots to do our chores

Away from its social networking services, one of Facebook’s side hustles is training AI robots to navigate home environments and perform all the chores we don’t want to do. In 2019 it released AI Habitat, an open-source simulation platform of photo-realistic 3D home environments. Now here’s the next version: Habitat 2.0.

This features vastly improved speeds, new benchmarks and a reconstructed dataset that will allow robots to be trained to complete tasks in interactive 3D environments. These tasks could be things like stocking the fridge, loading the dishwasher and even taking the bins out. Come on in, robot butlers, it’s time for you to shine!

4. Instagram ‘no longer a photo-sharing app’

It’s been a phrase we’ve heard a lot in the past few years, but Instagram is pivoting to video as its content of choice, in response to the explosive success of TikTok and YouTube’s influencer-driven video content. “We’re no longer a photo-sharing app or a square photo-sharing app,” Instagram head Adam Mosseri has announced.

Instead, the platform is going to implement several new video-led initiatives, such as experimenting with recommending users full-screen videos in their feeds, including those from accounts they do not already follow. Instagram has already introduced Reels, which is basically a direct copy of TikTok’s format.

5. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads…

Back to the Future Part II predicted we’d be zooming around the skies in flying cars by 2015. Well, it’s six years late but science fiction moved closer to reality this week when a prototype flying car completed a 35-minute flight between two Slovakian cities. AirCar is a hybrid that transforms from sports car to aircraft in three minutes.

The vehicle can seat two people, has flown at 8,200ft and has a maximum cruising speed of 118mph. Morgan Stanley has predicted that the flying car industry will be worth $15 trillion by 2040, with implications for the future of passenger travel, defence and goods transportation. No word on those tiny rehydrating pizzas, sadly.

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