Aug. 28, 2020
The certification process has started! In this update, we will go over what we did to prepare for the certification process, BLE connectivity, USB-C upgrades, and color matching.
First off, let’s talk about certification and what that exactly means. If you’re familiar with Alexa products, you may have seen the terms “Alexa Enabled”, “Alexa Compatible”, or “Works with Alexa” used somewhat interchangeably, which previously lead to some confusion as to the distinction between the different types of Alexa products. More recently, Amazon has made an effort to clarify its Alexa device ecosystem by implementing “Alexa Built-In” as the term for devices like the Doppler that have Alexa running on the device itself, like an Amazon Echo device, as opposed to devices that just have a skill, like a smart light bulb. In order to have a cohesive Amazon Alexa experience on all “Alexa Built-In” devices, like the Doppler, Amazon requires each and every product to go through a strict certification process. At the successful end of the process, you are eligible to say your product has “Alexa Built-in” and you can proudly display that banner on your Amazon listing and marketing materials.
Certification and testing are some of the least interesting bits of content for these updates that we can imagine, so instead of going into great detail about the various certification requirements, we are going to give a very brief overview and then tell you where we are in the process.
Before you submit your device to Amazon for certification, you have to make sure it follows Amazon’s requirements. We have been on top of these requirements since well before the Doppler launched and we have been checking every time we add a new feature that we are in compliance with the various requirements Amazon lays out. Once your device meets all the requirements Amazon has set forth, the real fun begins--self-testing. There are 5 self-tests that Amazon has: Functional, UX, Music, Security, and Acoustic. These various tests are all listed in Amazon’s documentation which is available here: https://developer.amazon.com/en-US/docs/alexa/alexa-voice-service/self-testing-process.html. We are going to skip some of these details in an effort to keep you reading and awake. The bottom line is that the testing took a lot of time and the Doppler now passes all of the self-tests!
One of the resources we used to help us pass all the self-testing is something Amazon built called the Alexa Qualification Tool (AQT). This tool uses multiple specially-tuned speakers in a specifically designed and laid out room and pattern to mimic different sounds coming from different places. For example, you’ll have one speaker say “Alexa, tell me a joke” accompanied by silence, then say the same thing with music playing in the background, then again with white noise playing. This will test the acoustic properties of the Doppler. If/when something failed or went wrong, we had to tweak the Doppler to get it to pass. Having AQT allowed us to run multiple tests much faster than without it. Even with AQT, it has been a time-consuming process to try to get everything working as well as possible. But it’s done and we have passed all the self-testing!
The vast majority of the time was spent on the issue of Alexa hearing herself saying “Alexa”, which we have mentioned before, and struggling with the DSP (digital signal processor) and audio system in general. Although this issue has now been tested more thoroughly and things are working much better, we can’t quite put the issue to rest. However, we think it’s good enough at this point to proceed.
We are confident that we now have a version of the software and DSP firmware working well and we are doing final acoustic testing over the weekend. Next week, each of these devices that we are currently testing will be sent to Amazon’s test lab for final certification. We aren’t entirely sure how long this certification process will take, but we are hoping that in 3 or 4 weeks we will have more information either way. Please expect the next update to be around then with (hopefully good) news. Once we get the green light from Amazon and the third-party security company we can start the shipping process.
As mentioned previously, along with the functional, UX, music, and acoustic testing that Amazon conducts, there is also a third-party security audit required for “Amazon Built-In” Certification. This third party security audit checks all aspects of the device to make sure that it is living up to Amazon’s strict security standards which guarantee both that the device is hard to hack and that no personal information can be obtained by someone trying to break into your home network through the Doppler. This audit is going to be done in Taiwan by an independent, third-party lab and we have two Dopplers ready to send next week to Taiwan. A lot of the last couple of weeks have been spent on writing internal documentation and double-checking these against Amazon’s requirements making sure that everything is up to snuff. We are confident that we will pass this audit as well.
While we’ve had lots of positive feedback from our Beta backers, we’ve also had some negative feedback. The vast majority of the issues and feedback have all revolved around the Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connection between the phone and the Doppler. When you don’t have a solid connection between the Doppler and the smartphone, bad and confusing things happen while you are using the app. We have listened to the Beta backer’s feedback and are now working on implementing WiFi-based communication between the Doppler and the smartphone. This is a decent amount of work on both the Doppler software side as well as the app team at our partner company, Zemingo.
The initial setup between the Doppler and the app will be unchanged and will use BLE.. Once the Doppler has successfully connected to your home network we will then be switching the communication method from BLE to WiFi. The only downside to this new connection protocol is that your phone will have to be connected to the same wifi network as the Doppler for the app to work. We are also investigating a cloud-based connection method for the Doppler so that you wouldn’t have to be on the same wifi network and could control your Doppler from anywhere you have an internet connection. For the developers in our community, yes we are using a REST API and you can expect a bunch of nerdy jokes about using a REST API on an alarm clock.
We have discussed this a couple of times in previous updates, but we would like to carve out some time at the end of this one to discuss USB-C again. We have mentioned that we would be supporting a USB-C upgrade kit that would allow users to have three USB-A and three USB-C ports. Originally, this upgrade kit would have shipped with your Doppler and would not be pre-installed. Then we said we would pre-install the upgrade kit for you. Well, now we are ending up somewhere in the middle, where all backers who want a USB-C upgrade pre-installed will have that option, but we will also be offering a simple upgrade kit for those that want to upgrade after they receive their Doppler. We have written a little step-by-step guide (with lots of pictures) in our manual on how to upgrade your Doppler’s left-side USB-A ports to USB-C ports. While the process is very easy and straightforward, we promised that we would pre-install these, and we will stand by that.
Any backers who have ordered USB-C Dopplers will have their units pre-installed with USB-C.
We also would like to take this opportunity as another reminder that if you want USB-C on your Doppler, please follow the instructions in this video and upgrade your pledge to USB-C in your Backerkit and we will pre-install it for you! (Please refer to this update on how to do this). For those that want to upgrade to USB-C in the future, you will be able to do so with minimal effort thanks to this kit.
Finally, we would like to discuss a small tweak we are working on with colors. We have, effectively, three different types of LED’s on the Doppler which all make up the 136 lights. There are lights under the silicone in the top buttons area, as well as two types of lights behind the main window. We have spent some time tuning these 3 light sources and matching colors to make them all as uniform as possible. There is still some slight variance in the lights and materials used on the individual Dopplers but we think the colors match much better now.
We also wanted to give a quick update to the Beta backers. We have been hard at work on the build for Amazon certification and once that build has been completed and verified we will push it to you. Thanks again for your help and feedback with the beta program. We do have a couple more beta units if you’d like to change your order to a Beta Doppler, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again for all your support and please let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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