Amazon’s Astro Robot Rolls Out Alexa on Wheels
Amazon introduced a friendly-faced robot on wheels named Astro to cap off its annual device showcase on Tuesday. The small robot is designed to serve as a mobile assistant at home, fulfilling a broad array of entertainment, security, and even courier roles.
Astro is essentially an Echo Show attached to a small motorized cart crammed with sensors and processors. The body includes a small cargo space and a two-foot telescoping neck, though it is otherwise fairly seamless. Taken in at once, the robot evokes Wall-E, the cleaning robot from the Disney movie of the same name. The shapes, sounds, and movements of the robot were specifically engineered to evoke empathy. The $1,450 robot is unlikely to end up in a landfill like Wall-E, even at the $1,000 introductory price. The robot is part of Amazon’s Day 1 Edition program, which means those interested can request an invitation for the chance to purchase the initial version.
The sensors inside of Astro enable it to map out floor plans and recognize faces. Someone could put an object in Astro’s cargo space then order it to deliver it to someone else in a specific room, and the robot should be able to find the room and the person on its own, according to Amazon. The smart display and included Alexa voice assistant means it can be used like an Echo Show for people who aren’t sitting still, like a more mobile version of the Echo Show X and its swivel display. As a privacy measure, Amazon built Astro to do most of the visual and audio processing internally, without needing to transmit data to or from the cloud. The AI can even be taught what parts of the home are out of bounds for additional privacy. Even if physically put it where it was told it couldn’t go earlier, it will actually leave to go where it is allowed.
Amazon Senior Vice President, Devices & Services Dave Limp was quick to make it clear Astro isn’t just an Echo show, however. He touched on its capacity as a home monitor that can check a whole house autonomously with the new Ring Protect Pro Service. The robot can also apply Alexa Guard technology to alert owners about alarms or suspicious noises. It can also be piloted remotely by a homeowner. He also pitched as an aide for those who want to keep a watch over loved ones, especially if they are older or unwell, augmenting the new Alexa Together service with a mobile station.
“In five to 10 years, we believe every home will have at least one robot. They’ll become a core part of your everyday life,” Limp said in introducing Astro. “We learned early on that customers don’t just want Alexa on wheels. To that end, we embodied Astro with a unique persona that’s all its own. From adding eyes to the display, to a whole host of sounds, the device really comes alive.”
Astro has come quite far from the Echo smart speaker taped to a Roomba vacuum that former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once posted to Instagram. Amazon has been rumored to be developing a home robot for half a decade. The reports named the robot Vesta for the Roman goddess of the home and hearth. Astro likely tested as sounding more friendly, although Amazon claims it’s not named for the cartoon dog owned by the Jetsons. More than 800 people at Amazon’s Lab126 were reportedly tasked with developing the robot in one of the research center’s largest projects. And while Amazon isn’t the first home robot creator, Astro does seem like a contender to thread the needle between the healthcare-focused creations like temi and the cat-faced Mylo and the more explicitly pet-like cyber-dogs from Xiaomi.