Cute, evil, or a bit of both? Amazon has just unveiled Astro, a moving robot designed to wheel itself around your home, keep an eye on intruders, and even keep your kids occupied.
At the close of Amazon's September launch event, which saw a host of gadgets from new Halo fitness trackers to Blink video doorbells, we got our first glimpse at the device, which looks to combine the smarts of Amazon Alexa with the navigational systems of a robot vacuum, the display of an Echo Show, and the travelling camera capability of the Always Home Cam indoor drone.
In short, it's a very complicated, very ambitious thing for Amazon to release.
With two primary wheels for motion and a third, smaller wheel at the back to help with navigation, Astro can zip around at one meter per second. A periscope camera shimmies out of Astro's head to take a good look at things above floor level, such as what foods and spices are on your kitchen shelves.
If it sounds like science fiction, that's certainly Amazon's aim – with repeated claims that, "within a decade" such robots will be commonplace in the home. Whether you believe that or not, it's clear Amazon wants to take a shot at owning that market.
Home safe home
As with Amazon's range of Ring video doorbells and cameras, a big part of the messaging around Astro has to do with security.
A press release states that "When you’re away, Astro helps provide the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is safe. Astro can move autonomously around your home, navigate to check in on specific areas, show you a live view of rooms through the Astro app, or even send alerts if it detects an unrecognized person.
"With Alexa Guard, Astro can also detect the sound of a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, or glass breaking, and send an alert to your phone—helping you keep your home safe, even when you’re somewhere else."
With an introductory $999.99 (around £750 / AU$1,400) price tag – which is set to rise to $1,499 some time after launch – it's one of the most expensive commercial products that Amazon has released, costing several times that of a Fire TV Cube or Amazon Echo Studio.
Starting today you can sign up to request a model – through Amazon's Day1 Editions program (opens in new tab), for its more experimental and limited edition devices – with Astro units set to ship "a little later this year" in the US. There's no word on a UK or global release date, but Amazon often waits a few months after a 'home' launch to take its products abroad.
You, me and Astro too
It's surprising that the robot isn't named Alexa, and was instead spun out into its own, similar-sounding entity. What gives, you ask?
Amazon tells TechRadar (opens in new tab) that "We learned early on that customers don’t just want Alexa on wheels. To that end, we embodied Astro with a unique persona that’s all its own. From adding eyes to the display to a whole host of sounds, the device really comes alive."
Despite that "unique persona" comment, some observers may recall that the name Astro ... is already taken. It's the moniker of PlayStation's robot mascot, which has a similar shape and black/white color scheme (much like the PS5 itself) and two bright eyes that beg you to love it.
Whether you find Astro cute or alarming, there's certainly something fascinating here, in an all-in-one device that combines all of Amazon's smart home capability into a moving device that's also designed to be something of a 'friend'. We can certainly see kids running around after it, and the screen Astro uses for a face can also be used for video calls with relatives and the like.
It naturally comes with all the standard Alexa features baked in, such as "music, news, podcasts, and timers." If you're doing a video call, too, "Astro will move with you around the house, so that you can continue the conversation."
If you fancy being followed around the house by an Amazon camera, you'll shortly have the option – though it's worth bearing in mind the words of one of Astro's creators in the Amazon launch event: "This isn’t our last robot, it’s our first robot."
So if you're unsure of how this will play out – and whether the first-ever Astro will be a worthwhile iteration, or a proof of concept for something better – you'll likely get more options down the line. Of course, you can always catch up on some Black Mirror episodes, especially season 6's episode 'Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too', to catch up on the sci-fi around home robot companions these days.
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