By Peter Hobson
LONDON (Reuters) - Online retailer Amazon brought Echo, its voice-activated smart home controls device to Britain and Germany on Wednesday, hoping the Star Trek-inspired gadget will replicate the success it has seen in the United States.
The software, called Alexa, responds to voice commands to answer questions, order groceries, control internet-connected devices, call cabs and play music through third-party services such as Uber [UBER.UL] and Spotify.
The launch, the latest big marketing push in Britain by the retailer, is the first expansion of Echo outside the United States, where it says it has sold millions of the devices since its debut in 2014.
Dave Limp, Amazon's head of devices, said it had spent two years preparing for the European launch, with 1,000 engineers working to train the software to understand everything from local accents, senses of humor and colloquial phrases.
The Echo device, which Limp said was inspired by Star Trek, will sell for 149.99 pounds ($198) in Britain and 179.99 euros ($203) in Germany.
The launch comes as Amazon steps up its activity in Britain. The Seattle-based company, with a market capitalization of $360 billion, launched its grocery service, AmazonFresh, this year and plans to create around 5,000 new jobs in the country.
Amazon said it aims to break even on sales of Echos, making money instead on goods and services bought through the device, such as music and groceries.
The Echo is part of a growing trend towards the use of voice-controlled gadgets, with U.S. technology giant Google set to release a rival to the Echo called Google Home in the coming months.
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)