A doglike Alexa on wheels: Amazon’s new Astro robot is a smart household assistant that also happens to have a ‘unique personality’. However, there is a certain amount of criticism…
It had long been expected that Amazon would come up with a robot for domestic use. On Tuesday, the web giant finally presented its latest toy: Astro, a compact robot on wheels, equipped with a touch screen and a periscope with a camera. The device looks like a dog and is multifunctional.
Just like Alexa, Astro can answer questions and play music. The robot can monitor the home when its occupants are out: it patrols autonomously and sends a message to your smartphone if a smoke alarm goes off or glass breaks, for example. You can use the periscope to remotely check if everything is in order at home. Or you can use the robot for video calls to stay in touch with isolated family members. If you are at home, Astro will follow you around all day long.
What about privacy?
The dog cannot run into things thanks to artificial intelligence, and it can recognise members of the household by their faces and voices. According to the developers, Astro also provides a portion of fun at home. They say they gave the robot a ‘unique personality’ to make interactions more entertaining. The little dog can make cute faces with its eyes displayed on the touch screen, shows body movements and communicates in an expressive tone. This ‘built-in empathy’ encourages users to connect with the device: Astro almost became part of the family, according to some test users. And all that for 999 dollars.
But leaked internal documents also show that the home robot is far from operating flawlessly. Facial recognition is unreliable, which means Astro is not the best watchdog. He appears to fall down the stairs rather easily, and the periscope is fragile, reports Vice. There are also the obvious privacy concerns: Astro sees and hears everything that happens in the home. In the past, Amazon employees have been found to eavesdrop on recorded commands from Alexa users, officially to improve the speech assistant’s logarithm. Now they can also collect the footage…