Amazon unveiled a robot that patrols users’ homes, scopes out strangers, and warns of perceived dangers.
What’s new: Astro maps users’ homes while using face recognition to decide whether or not to act on perceived threats such as intruders. It also plays music and delivers teleconferences, and it has storage space for ferrying small items around the house. It’s scheduled to hit the market later this year for an introductory price of $999.
How it works: Astro is designed to learn about users’ homes and habits over time. Built on Amazon’s Alexa platform, it uses that system’s software for voice recognition and connects to the same security system as Ring doorbells.
- Astro maps optimal positions in each room from which to watch for intruders and hazards such as fires. It also keeps track of high-traffic areas to avoid.
- Users enroll the faces and voices of housemates and frequent visitors. The robot tracks everyone who enters a house using microphones and a telescoping camera that rises up to 42 inches above its body. If it detects an unfamiliar person, it will follow them, moving among vantage points in each room to receive a complete view of their activities.
- Users can start and stop patrols via a mobile app and can designate certain rooms off-limits.
Yes, but: Leaked documents published by Vice raise significant privacy concerns. For instance, law enforcement officials might serve warrants to Amazon, rather than homeowners, enabling them to monitor Astro’s output. Or they might use the robot to execute sting operations, as they have used Ring doorbells. Moreover, developers who worked on Astro told Vice the robot is fragile, prone to falling down stairs, and often misidentifies people.
Why it matters: Ring was an unqualified success, having sold over 1.4 million last year. Astro is a logical next step to further capitalize on that market. And there’s the added benefit that a rolling robot can provide an unprecedented view of a customer’s home and habits.
We’re Thinking: No doubt many users will find Astro a fun addition to their gadget menagerie. However, we hope that Amazon will make it easy for users to opt out of (or, better yet, not opt into) undisclosed or unconsented uses of the data it collects.