Amazon has launched its first household robot Astro which is powered by Alexa smart home technology and has been programmed with a range of movements and expressions to give it personality. The global e-commerce giant has pitched Astro as a companion robot who can hang out with elderly parents, throwing them a beatboxing party, and helping them stay in regular contact with family members and friends via video calls.
The robot, on wheels, can autonomously drive around the house packed with cameras and a screen, it can map the house’s layout, recognize objects and check on loved ones and pets remotely using a series of cameras, and a display on its front featuring a set of expressive animated eyes.
David Limp, head of Amazon’s devices and services, said customers don’t just want Alexa on wheels so the company has embodied it with a unique persona that’s all its own. He said Astro can also act as a security robot. It is linked with the doorbell firm Ring’s Protect Pro service, and can patrol the house, investigate disturbances and send an alert if it detects an unrecognized person.
Moreover, the robot can stop immediately if someone suddenly moves in front of it, such as a pet or when encountering stairs. Users can set up out-of-bounds areas and turn off cameras and mics, while LED lights and the screen show when someone is viewing the robot’s cameras. Astro also processes images and sensor data on the device to help preserve privacy. The robot also comes equipped with an extendable periscope camera that pops up from its head.
Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, described Astro as a bold move by Amazon. He said it’s a logical step given the company’s expertise in robots and desire to become more integrated into consumers’ daily lives. “Unlike some rivals, Amazon is willing to bring highly experimental products to market and see how customers react,” he said. “Offering products resembling something from a science fiction novel positions Amazon as an innovative company in the eyes of consumers and investors.” Amazon has built many of Astro’s components from scratch, including most notably the SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) system it uses to map and navigate the home.
Amazon Robotics, which began in 2012 with the company’s acquisition of Kiva Systems, formed a sounding board for the consumer team’s ideas. The company’s existing robotics are industrial and primarily focused on getting packages delivered in the least amount of time possible.