amazon astro robot indoors, on a wood floor
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Amazon Now Makes Robots! Should We Freak Out?

10/12/2021
Amazon's Astro is the company's first attempt at a home robot designed to be a roving smart platform for Alexa, video calling, surveillance and many other services. Image: Amazon

The Everything Store can now roam around your home, dropping knowledge, checking the pantry for thyme, making sure Junior is asleep—or maybe just creeping everyone out.

Those crazy future-thinkers over at Amazon just released a pet workaround and a babysitter all wrapped in one “cute” package they call Astro. The roving robot uses advanced technology, including AI, computer vision, many sensors, and voice commands to eliminate yelling “dinner time,” checking on your Ring, and searching for the nearest Alexa. It may be cute and have a built-in personality (supposedly Astro has empathy), but at $1,450, is it essential, or just a creepy spy?

According to leaked documents first reported by Vice, even insiders are skeptical. One creator of the robot reportedly called it a “disaster that’s not ready for release,” while another said that its use as an elderperson’s babysitter was “absurdist nonsense.” Apparently, Astro isn’t so adept at stairs, either.

To make matters worse, Vice also reports that the robot is fragile and that several devices had broken. That’s not great news for a $1,000 (or $1,449) robot that lives on the floor, where it’s prone to being stepped on by children, kicked by inattentive adults, or attacked by pets displeased with its presence.

Early reviews point to the home robot as essentially Alexa on wheels, though this little guy can also take photos and keep an eye on your loved ones and vintage guitar collection when you’re out in the world. “Even at homes as Alexa-fied as mine, there are still lots of things my home can’t do because my devices are stationary,” said David Limp, SVP of Devices & Services at Amazon. “This robot changes all of that. With Live View in the app, you can send it to check on specific things, rooms, people, even pets.” Because when you’re away from home, you definitely want to have eyes on the cookie jar.

Its telescoping camera can peer over countertops to see if the snack drawer has been left open. Its facial recognition allows you to put your husband’s errant dirty sock in its bin then send it to the offender in another room. It’s able to detect the sound of breaking glass and smoke alarms, to fact-check during arguments at meal time, and, thanks to SLAM (Simultaneous Localization and Mapping)—which helps it navigate around obstacles that weren’t in its way yesterday (like that sock)—to sneak around your home autonomously. It’s part Wall-e, part stranger danger.

Ultimately, little Astro is actually a surveillance system, which makes its best use-case to keep a watchful eye on older folks and little ones. Couple it with the new Alexa Together ($20/month) service—which offers fall detection, 24/7 access to an emergency helpline, and the ability for everyone in the family to set up alerts for group gatherings—and you’ve got no reason to get a dog, a house manager, or an aid for your aging (but still independent) parents.

So, is the everything store watching everthing you do cool or creepy?

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