Astro, the Amazon robot with the soul of Alexa, will be on the market by the end of the year: it will help us around the house and already seems a good candidate for a place among "man's best friends"
Amazon has just presented Astro, the small robot powered by Alexa's intelligence that could be running around our homes in no time, beating important competitors like Boston Dynamics.
Too much science and too little business acumen seem to be leaving Jeff Bezos pretty much alone in the race to commercialize the first robots that will help us with household chores and day-to-day matters - as science fiction dictates.
Astro: the home robot
The little Astro, just 60 centimeters tall and weighing no more than 10 kilos, is designed to be a support for the elderly and help manage the house.
It is able to move around the rooms independently and recognize the people in the house, pass him video calls or even hand him a cold beer, thanks to its periscopic arm that allows it to interact with knobs and switches.
The one launched by Amazon is not a humanoid robot, like Elon Musk's recently announced Teslabot or Boston Dynamics' portentous dancing robot: Astro looks more like a screen-equipped roomba, which may remind you of the Emiglio toy, at least for a certain fixity of gaze.
No uncanny valley risk with Astro: Amazon's little robot doesn't look like a human, nor does it want to, with the sole exception of the LCD "face" with two very large, perfectly round eyes that can manifest the robot's "state of mind."
Astro has a "sentry mode" that allows it to patrol the house and activate if it detects any anomalies or unexpected presences.
The robot with puppy eyes
In Astro's launch commercial, the Amazon-branded robot appears to follow its "master" with an attentive gaze, just as a puppy would, and then passes a video call to the little lady of the house, intent on playing on the floor.
You can ask Astro to play music - just like it does with Alexa (all the news here), the smart soul of the home robot - or use its periscopic arm to show us what's happening on the stove while we're out of the house.
Presented with the promise of being launched by the end of the year at a special price of $999, Astro will cost in the future $1.449.99 - a few dollars less than the Chinese version of Spot, Boston Dynamics' celebrated robotic dog that pioneered "consumer" robotics.
Astro seems to listen intently, winks and is exactly the size of a small dog, just like Spot. Unlike the other robot dog, however, Astro can't wreak havoc in the home by toddling around or engaging in strange movements like Boston Dynamics' yellow dog does.
Astro looks a lot friendlier than the robots we're used to: Astro's big round eyes express happiness, worry, joy or curiosity, and bring us closer to the very real possibility of finally having a robot friend in the house, or a new pet to cuddle up with.
Just announced, Amazon's little robot is already causing discussion, and certainly not because of the shape it was decided to give him: it would seem a danger to privacy, not unlike Alexa, and it would seem to be not yet ready for commercialization.
According to what has been revealed to Vice by some sources within the company, Astro would be "a disaster", to the level that "it would throw itself down a flight of stairs if the opportunity arose".
Amazon does not collect the provocation, and confirms that the small robot has "passed rigorous tests on both quality and safety, including tens of thousands of hours of testing with participants in the beta test phase".