‘Astro’ is Amazon’s New Wall-E Inspired Home Robot, But What Does it Exactly Do?

Amazon unveiled its first home robot ‘Astro’ at an event last night. The company explains that the robot is “designed to help customers with a range of tasks like home monitoring and keep in touch with family.” With the mix of artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensor technology, and voice and edge computing, Astro is teased as the next-gen virtual assistant that literally takes a physical form factor and can walk around you to help with daily tasks. Here’s what the home robot is capable of doing.

In terms of the design, Astro may look similar to Pixar’s Wall-E minus the cleaning capabilities. In fact, the promotional video teases a sound similar to the Disney character, at least while walking (or sliding), which many fans remember in Star Wars’ BB-8 as well. In terms of use cases, Amazon adds that Astro works with ‘Ring,’ the company’s smart-security solution. With Ring Protect Pro, a new subscription service from Ring, users can set Astro to autonomously patrol your home and even save videos to Ring cloud storage. It will allow users to view the clips from the Ring or Astro app at any time.

What makes Astro more impressive, at least in the promotional stuff, is its fluid-dynamic movement that separates it from rigid robots like ‘C-3PO’ from the Star Wars series. We can the screen can fluidly tilt up and down – replicating the neck movements of a real being. Amazon says to help personalise the experience, Astro supports a new computer vision feature called visual ID, which lets household members teach the robot to recognise their schedule. It would mean Astro can deliver a reminder or call to a specific person or even find someone to bring them an item stored in the “Astro’s cargo bin.”

But of course, all the latest machine learning and AI capabilities raise numerous privacy concerns that Amazon tries to dispel. In a blog post, the e-commerce giant notes its home robot has a dedicated microphone/camera-off button like other Echo devices. When enabled, Astro cannot move or capture video and audio – and a dedicated red LED is illuminated to match the red status indicator on the screen. It further has an “easy-to-see LED light on top of its periscope to let you know when it is streaming video or audio to the cloud.” For example, the indicator light on top of Astro’s periscope will turn green whenever a video is streamed to the cloud, like when live view is in progress. In a separate FAQ, Amazon claims that the sensor data that Astro uses to navigate your home is processed on-device and not always sent to the cloud. It only streams video or images to the cloud when users use features, like live view in the Astro app, video calling with Alexa Communications, or video recording and storage by Ring.

It is clear that Amazon is not projecting ‘Astro’ as an advanced Alexa-enabled robot but a next-generation virtual assistant, now manifested in a physical body. It is also very clear with the moniker as it is simply called Astro and not Echo Astro. Moreover, it has its separate wake word “Astro.”

Coming to the pricing, Astro will cost $1,449.99 (approx Rs 1,07,500), but it will be available for an introductory price of $999.99 (approx Rs 74,200) with a six-month trial of the Ring Protect Pro subscription included – as part of the Day 1 Edition programme. Astro will be available in limited quantities, and the company plans to start granting invitations and shipping devices to customers in the US later this year. Astro may easily take a few years to come to India.