It’s that time of year when Amazon likes to announce new hardware
for the holiday season. This time, a little fellow called Astro stole most of the attention.
As Wired explains:
What do you get when you mix Amazon’s Alexa
voice assistant with an Echo Show
tablet, give it a hefty dose of artificial intelligence, integrate it all with Ring’s home security system
, and let it roll around your home autonomously? You get a robot for the sake of a robot.
Actually, you get Astro
, Amazon’s long-rumored home robot. The company has been working on this for nearly four years, and it has plans
for Astro. It’s just not quite sure exactly what those are yet, so it’s offering the robot by invitation only
, hoping thousands of early customers can help define what it’s for. The 2-foot-tall, 20-pound robot has a 10-inch touchscreen; includes an array of sensors, cameras, and microphones; and can wheel, multi-directionally, around your home. It costs $1,000.
I can see how a techno-optimist might love this; a little assistant who follows you around the house to help your with your queries or alert you when someone’s at the door. But it’s not that practical—it can’t go up or down stairs—and Amazon fully admits it’s not sure how useful Astro will be yet.
Leaked documents obtained by Vice
shed more light on Astro than the official marketing. In ‘Sentry’ mode, the robot will follow people it doesn’t recognise around the house, ‘investigating’ them. This sounds sinister, but in reality it’s likely to just be annoying to visitors. A genuine intruder would just destroy Astro or throw it downstairs, wouldn’t they?
Speaking of which, the documents also reveals that the robot has a habit of throwing itself downstairs, which means the intruder might not encounter anything more than a broken robot anyway.
One of the development team is quoted in the documents as describing Astro as “a privacy nightmare that is an indictment of our society and how we trade privacy for convenience with devices like [this].” Nice to see some Amazon staff are thoughtful about this stuff, even if their thoughts get drowned out by the constant whirring of a corporate machine that demands ever more invasive innovation.
If a cute little robot pal doesn’t appeal to you, how about an in-home drone? Amazon also announced that the Ring Always Home Cam—first revealed last year—is set for a limited launch soon
Imagine Astro, but flying, and without the Alexa stuff. It can set off on command, or patrol the house automatically while you sleep. I’ve always wanted the security of knowing what’s happening in my house when I’m away or sleeping, but I’m far from alone in being uneasy about letting an autonomous drone loose around the house.
This is a case of tech leading the way, hoping that demand will follow. Security drones are already a thing for commercial property and I can see how someone might buy one of these for their office, but it crosses the creepy line when it comes to home use… especially if you imagine it’s Jeff Bezos’ eyes surveying your home on the front of that robot or drone.