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Amazon has a neat trick for keeping Alexa quiet during its Super Bowl ad

Shortly after releasing a brief teaser, Amazon uploaded its entire 90-second Super Bowl commercial for the world to see ahead of the big game. The ad showcases a number of celebrities filling in for Alexa after she loses her voice, and during the whole thing, the hot word "Alexa" is said 10 different times.

Previous commercials from other companies have used assistant hot words in intrusive ways, but Amazon's done something special to ensure that your Alexa doesn't continually go off when its ad is airing.

Undetecable audio cues keep Alexa quiet during commercials.

All the way back in September of 2014, Amazon published a patent by the name of "Audible command filtering." The patent describes two different methods for preventing Alexa from waking up when its name is said, and of the two, Amazon went with one that sends out an acoustic tone – not noticeable by humans – to cue Alexa to remain silent.

Amazon started to really push its Echo speakers with short advertisements about a year ago, and shortly after this, Reddit user Aspyhackr decided to investigate why the ads weren't triggering their Echo even though they clearly say "Alexa" at one point or another. After running a few tests, they were able to conclude (and confirm through tests), that the commercials send out audio signals anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000Hz so that Alexa doesn't respond with a command.

The same technique will be used during Sunday's game, and while it's not technically new, it's a nice reminder that there's more to Amazon's commercials than meets the eyes (or voice).

Amazon Super Bowl teaser hints at new Alexa voices

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

14 Comments
  • Human hearing in those with normal hearing is 20Hz to 20,000Hz (20Khz). 3,000 to 6,000Hz that's right in the middle of human hearing. We sure the numbers aren't off?
  • Yeah, you're definitely right, and if it WERE a tone that humans couldn't hear, it probably also wouldn't be able to be played from most people's cheap TV speakers that they inevitably still use. I'm guessing, and it actually is the wording on second look, that it's more just something you wouldn't notice or think twice about rather than actually being inaudible.
  • Mine still wakes up when it hears "Alexa" in commercials, but generally ignores very quickly after. Once in awhile it will still try to act on the commercials request. Would be nice if Alexa never woke up in the first place.
  • There are times when just words that KIND of sound like 'alexa' are spoken. I was watching 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back' (yeah yeah...not a great movie) and this line caused Alexa to start telling me a story: https://getyarn.io/yarn-clip/17d68bfa-e1c1-4221-972e-a6c3500fe39c
  • I wanted to check out what clip it was, then my echo started telling me a story.
  • They are talking about specific Amazon commercials. Not sure this even works if they are YouTube or other internet versions. The only real solution would be much better individual recognition, though each individual in a household would have to train her individually. Then the TV, Radio, random guy outside, couldn't trigger her at all.
  • Just change your Wakeup word to Computer, or Amazon, though using Amazon slips up, Computer rarely does.
  • Unless you watch a lot of Star Trek:The Next Generation...
  • Right. Tried that. The word computer comes up way more often on TV and Radio (and general conversation at my house) than Alexa.
  • what's a computer?
  • "...that the commercials send out audio signals anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000Hz so that Alexa doesn't respond with a command." This is actually a little off. The researcher found that the commercials significantly SUPRESS sound at specific frequencies-- rather than sending out more sounds. So, the acoustic signature used is an ABSENCE of sound, not addition of.
    *They might be mildly amplifying the edge of the notch, but that would be to increase renognition accuracy of the quiet notch. Why would they use an absence of sound instead of adding additional sounds? Jamming. If Alexa were jammed with the addition of sounds, then it would be a trivial exercise to create and deploy an Alexa jammer. Conversely, it is significantly harder to deploy a sound-deleting device.
  • Gotta admit, the commercial was funny. 3 to 6 khz IS in the human hearing range. 3k is upper midrange, and Motown used to use 5k to bring out the vocals. So unless they programmed Alexa to ignore specific sound effects...
  • Video reviewers should use these audio cues when they make their videos. Watching an alexa related review videos makes my alexa devices go crazy.
  • anybody know what headset is being used by the celebs?