Amazon’s new Astro home robot uses AI to navigate autonomously, with display and periscope cam

Amazon’s Astro home robot. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon introduced a home robot called Astro, under development for the past several years, using artificial intelligence and other advanced technologies to operate autonomously in the home.

With circular eyes on its flat-panel display, Astro can roll around the house to find someone to accept an incoming call; use its periscope camera to make sure the stove is off; and follow someone who walks around during a video call; detect the sound of a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm; or find someone to deliver a reminder.

Astro’s periscope camera. (Amazon Photo)

Those are some of the scenarios for Astro that Amazon described when it unveiled the new robot Tuesday morning as part of its larger Alexa and Echo virtual event.

Astro can also autonomously patrol the house when people are away, and “proactively investigate when an event is detected,” the company says.

This feature works with the Ring Protect Pro subscription service. It’s similar in theme to the Ring “Always Home Cam,” an autonomous flying drone that Amazon announced a year ago, but has yet to release.

“Turns out, learning to fly, it’s pretty tough,” said Ring founder Jamie Siminoff during Amazon’s event this morning. Amazon is opening the invite list for the Always Home Cam today, but it didn’t give a release date.

The Astro robot, expected to ultimately retail for $1,449.99, will be available for an introductory price of $999.99 through the Amazon Day 1 Editions program, distributed via invitation starting later this year, Amazon says. It will come with a six-month free Ring Protect Pro subscription.

Amazon announced a series of privacy safeguards built into the Astro robot, including the ability to turn the microphones and cameras off by pressing a button, a focus on on-device processing when possible, and clear indicators about what the robot is doing at any moment, including an LED light on the periscope that signals when it sending audio or video to the cloud.

Privacy and security issues have been a challenge for Ring and Amazon as they’ve rolled out new products, including questions over Amazon’s handling of Alexa voice recordings, and a series of headline-generating hacks of Ring cameras two years ago.

“Throughout its development, Astro has gone through hundreds of thousands of hours of internal testing with Amazon employees—both in offices and homes across the country,” writes Charlie Tritschler, Amazon vice president of products. “During my own time with Astro, I’ve thought of lots of new things for it to do—and I’m confident that customers will have even more ideas we haven’t thought of (yet).”

Developing story, more to come.

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