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People are already happy to spend $500 or more on faceless robot vacuums that troop around the house — so why not add some functionality, double the price, hook it up to a virtual assistant, and give it all a little personality?
That’s what Amazon is banking on with Astro, the retail tech giant’s just-announced new domestic robot that appears eager to de-anchor the Alexa digital assistant concept and put on wheels that can scoot to virtually every corner of your home. Already on sale (by invitation only) at Amazon, Astro is part Alexa, part R2-D2, and — at least according to some early critics — part surveillance nightmare.
If Astro (previously known under its "Vesta" project codename) has any dystopian Black Mirror ambitions, at least it’s hiding them well enough behind the innocent pixel “eyes” that give a screen-based face to its wires-and-circuits soul. Amazon’s apparently keen to the idea that some people will be skeptical of an internet-connected robot that has full run of your house, too: Astro’s debut video takes the point of view of a wary homeowner who can’t be persuaded to embrace the domestic droid…until, that is, it’s finally proven its worth by bringing her a beer.
Check out the promo explainer below:
What can Astro actually do? The video shows it carrying a drink (though not how the drink made its way from the refrigerator to the ‘bot’s on-board tray), investigate unfamiliar guests, and stop a raccoon home invasion — or at the very least, let you know the raccoons are mounting one. While a deep dive into its technical documents at Motherboard suggests that it might also vacuum up data on what’s going on inside your house, it apparently doesn’t actually vacuum (so score one for its faceless robo-vac cousins).
Amazon’s take is slightly more optimistic. Among other things, writes Amazon VP of Products Charlie Tritschler, Astro can check in on your home while you’re not there, monitor loved ones who may need an extra set of eyes on them, and add a measure of convenience to its Alexa assistant by putting it on wheels.
Though it can’t fight off intruders on its own, Astro can also perform a light form of auto-sentry duty, writes Tritschler, syncing with Amazon’s Ring security service to “autonomously patrol your home when you’re out, proactively investigate when an event is detected, and automatically save video clips to your Ring cloud storage, which you can review from anywhere in the Ring or Astro apps.”
Amazon has already extended early invitations to buy Astro as part of its early-adopter Day 1 Editions program, but the device hasn’t yet begun shipping to customers. Once the early promotional period ends, Astro is set to go on sale at a regular price of $1,499. It’ll just be up to you to decide if that’s a bargain for a ‘bot that can tattle on raccoon vandals and bring you a drink…or a steep entry fee for inviting a bundle of microphones and cameras on wheels into your home.