Astro is the latest smart home gadget from Amazon. This diddy robot has wheels to propel itself around your home, a tablet that can rotate to follow your voice, a drinks holder to bring you coffee or beer to the sofa… and everything is powered by Alexa, the same chatty AI found inside the Amazon Echo speaker.
Astro will launch in small numbers later this year, with an introductory price tag of $999 (£750 or so). Astro will only be available in the United States to begin, but is expected to rollout to more locations in the future. The final retail price for this little ‘bot will be $1,449.99 (roughly £1,100 converted), Amazon has confirmed. Ouch.
For that, Astro can follow you around the house so that you can talk with friends and family over video calls without being glued to the sofa and holding a tablet or phone infront of your face. Not only that, but Astro brings other benefits of Alexa with it too, including smart home controls, the latest weather forecasts and headlines, and reminders and calendar appointments. Astro can follow you from room to room while playing your favourite shows from Prime Video or Netflix, podcasts, or music.
Using the companion app on your iPhone or Android, you'll be able to drive Astro to a specific location in your home to check whether you've left the stove on, or confirm you have all the ingredients you need for dinner in the cupboard when you're in the shopping aisle. To help Astro peer into cupboards and onto your kitchen side, Amazon has built a so-called “periscope camera” that extends from the screen support and gives the robot extra height to look around.
Like its popular Ring security gadgets, Astro is designed to keep an eye on your property when you're out-and-about. As well as the ability to trundle around your home – with an advanced radar system stopping the ‘bot from bumping into things, getting stuck on the carpet or falling down the stairs – Amazon has included a truck load of sensors to look out for any problems in your home. The company says the system is good enough that Astro will be able to brake if a pet suddenly moves into its path.
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For example, Astro can also detect the sound of a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, or glass breaking. When it does, the robot will send an alert to your phone –helping you keep your home safe, even when you’re somewhere else. Astro is also programmed to send an alert if it detects an unrecognised person in your home.
Amazon also sees Astro as a helpful tool to help people who are remotely caring for elderly relatives and loved ones. Your loved one can ask Astro to set and deliver reminders, or you can use Drop In to join video calls with family and friends from wherever they are in the house, Amazon says. connected. When combined with the newly-announced Alexa Together subscription, Astro will give its owners 24/7 hands-free access to Urgent Response – a professional emergency helpline.
When navigating around the home or responding to a command, Astro will display a pair of eyes on the tablet. These react to what you're saying, or peer around the room. Amazon says it studied the most popular robots in fiction – and discovered that only a handful of the top one hundred ‘bots don't have eyes. As such, it was imperative that Astro has eyes on-screen to give it a sense of personality.
Speaking about this decision, Charlie Tritschler, Vice President of Products at Amazon, said: “We used feedback from hundreds of internal testers, and also took inspiration from film, TV, games, and animation principles to develop a persona that makes Astro unique. Astro uses its digital eyes on its rotating screen, body movements, and expressive tones to communicate. Its personality is also helpful – for example, it hangs out in places where it can be the most useful. For me, that’s in the kitchen, where I’m typically asking for a recipe or sending Astro to tell my family that dinner is ready.
“Astro’s personality not only helps it communicate intent and offer delightful experiences, but it also evokes emotions like empathy when people use the device. In testing, we’ve been humbled by the number of people who said Astro’s personality made it feel like a part of their family, and that they would miss the device in their home after it was gone. That kind of connection is rare with consumer electronics, but we hope it will be commonplace with Astro and other future robots in the home.”
Of course, there are always going to be privacy concerns when it comes to allowing an autonomous robot packed with cameras, sensors and advanced AI into your home. But Amazon has tried to cauterise all of those worries ahead of launch. For example, after you allow Astro to explore the layout of your home for the first time, you can designate areas that are off-limits. These out of bounds zones let Astro know where it’s not allowed to go. When told an area is out of bounds, Astro will avoid entering these spaces, and it will even leave the area if manually placed in an out of bounds zone.
Like the latest Amazon Echo devices, Astro has a microphones/cameras-off button customers can press whenever they want to turn off cameras, mics, and motion. When this button is pressed, Astro cannot move, or capture video or audio, and a dedicated red LED is illuminated to match the red status indicator on screen.
Amazon also says that a number of core features – including Astro's ability to learn faces – stays on-device.
Written by David Minister
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