Amazon’s Astro robot is still not ready for prime time

Increase / A limited number of customers had Astro in their showroom.


Amazon’s hardware event dedicated solely to the press included the reveal of the Kindle Scribe, Eero’s mesh extenders with the Echo, updated Echo Dot and Studio speakers, and Echo dashboard accessories. Like last year, there was also talk of the Amazon Astro robot that can drive around homes equipped with a digital smile, camera and microphones. This time, Amazon detailed the new and planned Astro features; however, one year after its initial announcement, Astro remains an experimental product available by invitation only.

Astro is a 17.3 x 9.8 inch robot with Alexa, smart display, microphones, speakers, LED night vision, periscope camera, cup holder and visual simultaneous location and mapping (V-SLAM) for home and unexpected navigation obstacles such as a dropped item. You have to request an invite to pay $ 1000 per bot. An Amazon representative told Ars Technica that invitations are now being sent out at “fairly regular intervals.”

Amazon appears to be accepting invitation requests while developing new features ahead of the expected mass availability whenever possible. Today’s Amazon event did not deliver any Astro updates due to general availability. When Ars Technica asked Amazon when it would be general availability, an Amazon representative would not be more specific than “as soon as possible.”

The new pet detection feature sounds like it could make it easier to stay away from your beloved little pet. Astro may allegedly send you a short video of your pet if it encounters it while patrolling your home. This feature also allows you to appear on the Astro display in case your pet misses you as much as you do or needs a familiar voice.

Amazon also announced the possibility of training Astro to learn about the windows or doors in your home, so it can alert you with an image and text if they are open or closed, and they shouldn’t. If something is wrong, Astro can warn you even when you are not at home by sending you a photo and a text message. You can also ask Astro to check a specific window or door you taught him about.

This feature works by dual modality artificial intelligence, including Astro by looking at the object and describing the Astro object. Astro gives you the opportunity to inform him if something has gone wrong so he can improve.

The next step is to identify objects more broadly, starting with furniture and pet food bowls, said Ken Washington, vice president of Amazon Devices and Services.

But while many consumers still can’t buy and try Astro, Amazon will continue experimenting with the robot in a new market: small and medium-sized enterprises (SMBs).

Amazon hopes Astro will address concerns about the physical security of small and midsize businesses and minimal budgets. Amazon has indicated that Astro works with Amazon’s Ring security cameras. If Ring is using Virtual Security Guard – which also appears to have limited availability, based on its website – Astro will go to the hack’s location. It can then communicate with “professional monitoring agents”, according to Washington’s blog, via video and two-way voice communication.

Amazon said it “in the coming months” will test the feature with a small group of business customers. However, if successful, we will see that this feature is also attractive to the most cautious individual customers.

Once launched, Astro has the potential to become one of the most readily available consumer robots, backed by a technology giant and an ecosystem of compatible products. However, this year’s Astro reviews show that there is still a long way to go before the product is launched so successfully.

For example, TechCrunch in May noticed Amazon’s lack of commitment to the product and had difficulty finding a need for expensive technology. CNET agreed that the Astro did not have a “compelling use case” as it was an experimental product in the day one edition (at the time of writing this article, Astro is still considered a day one product). Building on Amazon’s services like Alexa subscription and Ring’s Protection Pro, The Verge has reduced the home robot to “Echo Show on wheels.”

Therefore, it makes sense that Amazon is still working on improving the robot so that it not only looks as useful as possible, but as necessary as possible, given its high price and the limited precedent for such robots, especially in homes. After all, it’s not just Astro; Amazon hopes to build more than one consumer home robot, Washington GeekWire said in June.

It’s also not surprising that Astro’s strategy of moving forward with more business interest as many new technologies such as mixed reality devices and smart glasses have done to stay relevant.

To encourage the development of even more Astro skills, Amazon shares the development kit it used to build the pet detection feature mentioned above, with three schools known for developing robotics: Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Maryland and the University of Michigan.

For now, it seems the next Astro news will be about further software development, not a full public release. And for the $ 1,500 robot when it sees general availability, that’s probably for the best.

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Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include Amazon availability information and to explain the Animal Detection feature.

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