Amazon wants its home robot, Astro, to anticipate your every need

Washington says the same approach to teaching Astro with gestures and words could be extended to all kinds of furniture and objects in the home in the future. The underlying AI technology can also help the robot understand what humans are doing. “Artificial intelligence has reached this amazing inflection point,” he says. “It is at hand to know” This is a chair “and” Someone is sitting in the chair. ” Amazon is also planning a software update this year that will allow Astro to identify cats and dogs and automatically record their videos. function requested by users.

Washington says the technology behind these new capabilities is part of Amazon’s “big vision” for the smart home, which is learning to predict people’s habits. Amazon executives call this “environmental intelligence.” Getting there depends on Amazon being able to understand a lot of the things a person is doing in their home, Washington says, but most people flinch in front of a camera in every room. A cute wheeled robot provides a more acceptable way to monitor household activity. “If you have a mobile robot, it could be a smart glue to your future vision,” says Washington. “When you enter a room, for example, the lights come on.”

When I ask Washington if this might involve anticipating what people might want or need to buy, it avoids answering directly. It says the robot should know if you’re adding items to your shopping list, and points out how Alexa can preemptively turn off the lights if you tell him goodnight using a feature known as Premonitions. “Today you have to ask for something,” he says. “But many of these questions are starting to fade into the background as the AI ​​gets good enough to anticipate what I might want.”

Amazon’s vision of a cute machine watching your every move may be disturbing to some, especially given the company’s already detailed insight into the lives of its customers. Washington says Astro currently performs almost all of its calculations using its own hardware, sending little to Amazon’s servers, except for a house map that needs to be passed to the Astro smartphone app. “We took a privacy by design approach,” he says.

WIRED saw Astro in action last week in an imaginary apartment in Lab126. After years of writing about robots, I was impressed by his ability to navigate quickly through doors and obstacles, as well as his subtle interface with blinking eyes and emotional sounds. It was clear that creating even a relatively limited home robot required Amazon cramming impressive technology. Astro orientates itself with cameras, motion sensors and clever software that transforms video footage into a map, which is difficult to perform reliably in a small and relatively cheap consumer device.

The overall impression is of a smart pet, not a machine that tries to appear human – reasonable given the robot’s limitations. But every now and then there was an awkward moment when I asked Amazon executives, “Can he do something else?” Washington and others I spoke to on Lab126 said early adopters of Astro usually like the robot but want it to do more.

Amazon hopes to solve this problem by keeping Astro on the market and constantly improving the robot until the killer apps come out.

One option is caring for the elderly. Washington says one of the first Astro users logged into a robot to check on an older parent only to discover that he had fallen out of a wheelchair. Washington says Astro may look for such mishaps in the future and automatically perform many other helpful tasks. “It could know when they took the medicine and tell if they had fallen and needed help,” he says.

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