Big tech companies like Amazon are under increasing scrutiny for the way they use (and sometimes misuse) personal data. Amazon did not take that into account when it announced Astro, its first-even home robot that can trundle around your house, record video, deliver messages, and more. Anyone who actually wants an Amazon robot monitoring their house will have to pay at least $1,000 for the privilege.
Astro looks like a small rounded block with two 12-inch wheels toward the front. There’s a third wheel under the rear end to keep the robot stable. Up front, there’s a 10-inch screen that sits on a short arm. The display can show you content, but at idle it’s the robot’s virtual face. Amazon says it looked at movies, TV, games, and animation to give Astro a bit of personality. The way the eyes move and the expressive tones are supposed to put nearby humans at ease. Exactly how much at ease will probably depend on how you feel about Amazon mapping your house.
In order to get around, Astro needs to know where it is. Amazon developed a technology called Intelligent Motion, which makes use of simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM). So, the robot uses its sensors to build a 3D map of the space around it. Intelligent Motion devises several hundred potential paths to the goal and then scores them before choosing the best one. Not only does it learn the layout of your home, but it can cope with changes like an open drawer, a pile of dirty laundry, or a dog laying on the floor.
At its most basic level, Astro does all the things an Alexa-powered smart display can do. You can control smart home devices, view camera feeds, and check the weather. The robot has its own array of cameras, so it can even patrol the house when you’re away. Amazon actually added a telescoping camera to the robot that can see objects that it could not otherwise reach. For example, Astro could check to make sure you turned off the oven. The cameras are able to recognize members of the family, allowing you to drop items in Astro’s cargo bin for delivery. Just tell it who to find, and off it goes.
There are certainly some neat use cases here, but Astro is very rudimentary as far as robots go. It can’t traverse stairs, and the lack of arms means it won’t be able to carry anything outside that cargo bin. It won’t clean your floors, either. It’s a lot like the other home robots we’ve seen announced, but few of them have even gone on sale. Amazon is taking it slow with Astro — customers who apply to order the robot will have the chance to do so later this year for $999.99. Later, the price will go up to $1,499, but it will never be a mass-produced product.
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