Jeff Bezos-led e-commerce giant Amazon has acquired Ring, a maker of internet-connected doorbells and cameras, pushing more deeply into the home security market.
Reuters quoted a source saying that the deal value was close to $1 billion. Amazon had earlier invested in Ring through its Alexa fund which helps companies develop products and services around e-commerce major’s artificial intelligence platform. Post the investment, Ring had said last year that some of its products could use Alexa.
Ring itself had acquired another company called Mr Beans that was into producing WiFi-controlled lights.
Amazon has also launched its own model of home security camera called Cloud Cam for $119.99. The camera is used along with Amazon Key app that works with smart locks to either allow or deny access to houses. Amazon sells an Amazon Key In-Home Kit, including an Amazon Cloud Cam and a compatible smart lock, for $249.99.
However, this is not the first smart home products manufacturer that Amazon has acquired. On 21 February, Reuters reported that the Jeff Bezos-led company had paid about $90 million to acquire the maker of Blink home security cameras late last year in a secret bet on the startup’s energy-efficient chips.
The company has been making efforts to be the first to capture the AI-driven consumer products market space. Earlier this month, reports indicated that the company was developing an AI-powered chip that will bolster devices using its smart assistant, Alexa, amid efforts to consolidate its lead in the consumer-facing AI segment and keep Google at bay.
According to a report in The Information quoting unnamed sources, a chip is being developed that will help Alexa respond to commands faster by processing more data on the device itself rather than on the cloud. The report also said that the technology for building the chip will be derived from Israel-based microelectronics company Annapurna Labs. Amazon had acquired the chipmaker three years ago for $350 million. Annapurna Labs was incorporated in 2011 by Avigdor Willenz.
Amazon's smart assistant Alexa is available on its Echo devices, which currently dominate the smart speaker market. Rivals Google and Apple are attempting to catch up with their Home and HomePod devices, respectively.
Last week, Google merged its smart home devices unit Nest with its hardware team in a bid to outgun Alexa.
Google has also started pushing its Tensor Processing Units (TPUs) - AI accelerating circuits - on its cloud platform to enable engineers to run machine learning models faster.
While Amazon has around 450 employees with the expertise of developing AI-powered chips for Alexa, it will face a challenge in manufacturing these chips as it does not have fabrication experience nor does it have manufacturing units in China.
Interestingly, Amazon's move to make chips might pose a threat to companies like Nvidia and Intel which have been working on making AI-driven chips.
Amazon is also believed to be working on an AI chip for data centres for its cloud computing subsidiary, Amazon Web Services.
Amazon's Alexa, which was launched in late 2014, dominates the home-speaker market not only in terms of market share but also in skills.
“Google Home is nowhere near (in terms the number of skills), and the others, notably (Siri), aren’t anywhere in sight,” Werner Goertz, an analyst at research firm Gartner, told Business Insider.
According to a report published by eMarketer in May last year, Amazon dominates the voice-controlled speaker market. It had 70.6% of all voice-enabled speaker users in the US compared with 23.8% captured by Google Home.
Another report published by VoiceLabs in January last year also ranked Alexa as the leading voice AI in terms of market share. Survey data released by Edison Research last June found that Amazon Alexa-enabled devices had 82% market share compared with 18% for Google Home.
Amazon has also aggressively partnered with companies in the smart kitchen and automobile space to bring Alexa on their devices.
In January, the company said that its voice assistant will soon start controlling microwaves, smart ovens and refrigerators. Just four days after that announcement, the company also said that Alexa would also start interacting with drivers.