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will you let a gadget watch you sleep?

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Australians added another 600,000 smart speakers to their homes last year, putting Alexa, Siri, and Google’s Assistant in lounge rooms, kitchens, home offices, and even bathrooms and bedrooms.

The devices, which listen for commands, are now in more than 2.8 million Australian households, according to research from Telsyte, and they deliver music, alarms, weather reports, and streaming radio.

But eavesdropping and security fears aside, we’re so comfortable with the connected technology it’s triggered a demand for health-tracking technology that experts warn could be useful to some but “creepy” to others.

Google, Amazon, and Sonos are some companies behind the new wave of smart speaker tech arriving in stores, though Apple is also set to play a more significant role this year.

For example, Google’s second Nest Hub features low-energy radar technology, called Soli, that will let users control music playback or alarms by waving or holding their hands up near the device.

But the internet giant is taking technology one step further and will use it to track a user’s sleep quality. Google Nest product manager Kayiita Johnson says the Sleep Sensing feature was added after its predecessor, which lacked a camera, proved popular on bedside tables.

“We wanted to increase the utility and usefulness of these Nest Hubs in bedrooms,” he says. The $149 device promises to track with a radar a user’s body movement during sleep and the rise and fall of their chest to monitor breathing. The results are delivered on the speaker screen when they wake, along with suggestions for better rest.

Other new smart speakers launching this year include Amazon’s new top model Echo Show, with technology that can automatically track and follow a user’s face during video calls. The highly portable Sonos Roam offers access to a user’s choice of Alexa or Google.

Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi says some Aussies are using these speakers to replace “older hi-fi systems,” others are adding them to control bright lighting or doorbells. At the same time, more are being placed in home offices to set reminders and alarms.

“It is such a fast-moving market,” he says. “Consumers, particularly during the pandemic and we, assume after it will spend more time at home, so we see new use cases for smart speakers driving the growth of the market. We see the work-from-home aspect; we’re seeing children using them for education, we’re seeing more people using more functions.” Fadaghi says all three intelligent speakers are likely to find keen buyers in Australia, with expectations sales and intelligent home upgrades will continue to grow in 2021.

But he says some may draw the line at having an intelligent speaker watch them, as well as listen to them. “It comes down to how comfortable consumers are sharing data with a technology company. It’s not inconceivable some would look to this kind of product to help them with health concerns, but others will see it as unnecessary and even a bit creepy. It comes down to individual choices and these companies making it clear how their data is used and where it is stored.”

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About author
Tristan McCue is a 26-year-old junior programmer who enjoys reading, binge-watching boxed sets, and appearing in the background on TV. He is smart and friendly, but can also be very evil and a bit lazy.He is an Australian Christian. He has a post-graduate degree in computing.
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