Complex Made Simple

Amazon’s Astro home robot: Overrated?

Amazon Astro

Amazon’s newest home robot release may feel more like an artificial pet than a robust robotic assistant

Amazon's bet is that Astro can handle callings, find an elderly parent to chat and connect with services Astro can't answer your phone, deal with telemarketers or schedule a doctor’s appointment Neura Robotics to deliver a robot that can perform household chores and play the role of a companion

Amazon’s newest home robot release may feel more like an artificial pet than a robust robotic assistant. It can do some tricks, entertain, and help around the house, maybe even keep you safe with an ability to connect to a home security system, but it is limited in many other ways.

At $1500, is it worth it?

Astro launch  

Amazon introduced Astro, which includes Alexa, computer vision, and AI. Astro will cost $1,449.99, though it was sold for an introductory price of $1000.

“In 5 to 10 years every home will have a robot,” said Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Amazon.

Limp said he has been using Astro for a year in testing to check on loved ones and pets. A periscope feature can check on objects and investigate activity. Via an app, videos can be saved to a Ring account.

Amazon Astro

Amazon’s bet is that Astro can handle callings, find an elderly parent to chat and connect with services. It can play music and show you the weather and answer questions like any Echo smart display. It can be used for video calls, always keeping you in the frame by literally following your movements. It can roam around your house when you aren’t home, making sure everything is okay. It can raise its periscope camera to show you whether you’ve turned the stove off. It can use third-party accessories to record data like blood pressure.

Limp said that Amazon added privacy features, do not disturb functionality and boundaries for rooms that are out-of-bounds.

Key Astro features include:

  • Integration with Alexa Together, a service designed to connect family members remotely and call for help if needed
  • Integration with Ring and Alexa
  • Astro has simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) technology to avoid obstacles
  • A dedicated safety processor
  • On-device processing
  • Ability to turn microphones and cameras off

The company began work on the robot roughly four years ago, leveraging different Amazon departments to build a fully realized home robot.

What Astro can’t do

As ambitious as the Astro is, it still is very much a first cut at what a home assistant robot could be. It doesn’t have any arms or appendages to open doors or cabinets, and it can’t help you move or get up if you’ve fallen down. It can’t clean your floors, can’t climb stairs, and can’t go outside of your home. There’s no ability for it to answer your phone and deal with telemarketers (something Google Pixel phones are already doing) or have it work with your doctor’s office to schedule your next appointment. The Astro can tell you when someone’s rung the doorbell, but it can’t go ahead and sign for that package delivery.

Astro specs

The Astro has a 10-in (25.4 cm) touchscreen for a “face” and a wide array of sensors for eyes. The Astro stands roughly two feet high (61 cm) and weighs about 20 pounds (9 kg). Its main drive wheels are about 12 in (30.5 cm) in diameter. It can do a top speed of 1 meter per second and it has the ability to move in 360°, forward, back, or any direction it pleases.

Amazon Astro

Inside the plastic-clad shell are five different motors: one for each drive wheel, one to raise and lower its periscope camera, and two to twist and tilt its “face.”

That face is effectively the screen lifted off an Echo Show 10. It’s got an array of sensors in its bezel, plus a standard 5-megapixel video calling camera. Most of the time, the screen displays two circles that behave as “eyes,” allowing you to understand what the Astro is doing or where it’s planning to go. It can also show some limited personality through these circles, contorting them into different shapes and angles.

Between the sensors on the front of the robot are a couple of two-inch (5.1 cm) speakers.  The Astro has a 12-megapixel periscope camera that can raise up to 42 inches (106.7 cm) high.

Around its back is a small payload area, capable of carrying 4.4lbs (2kg) of cargo. There’s a 15-watt USB-C port in the payload area that you can use to charge your phone, but the real utility of that is for accessories to plug into.  

Like a robot vacuum, the Astro has a charging dock to which it can automatically attach itself. Charging the battery from zero to 100 takes about 45 minutes and it can go for about two hours of motion between charges and the Astro is designed to manage its battery life on its own, but you can also tell it to do so by voice commands, through the touchscreen or in the app.  

Amazon Astro

Home assistant robots

Neura Robotics, a German company, displayed commercial robots at this year’s edition of GITEX which was held from October 17 to 21 in Dubai.

Neura Robotics enhances the cognitive abilities of a robot that enables the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered machine to think like a human.

The company promises to deliver a robot that can seamlessly perform household chores and also play the role of a companion.

The home assistant robot, which will be available in the market next February, can also play and talk to a consumer in an increasingly wired world.

David Reger, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Neura Robotics, said: “We have developed robots that will never hurt humans and that’s how it has been programmed. The 360° sensors attached to the robots help them know the difference between humans and objects. It’s a first.”  

“By early next year, you can get your AI-backed home assistant robot with cognitive abilities of a human-like feeling. It will have an AI-enabled mind that can communicate effortlessly. It is capable of carrying out all kinds of tasks such as tidying up a house, loading a dishwasher or a washing machine, mopping, dusting and cleaning surfaces. These are the unique attributes of this robot,” Reger continued.

The home assistant robot promises to be agile, affordable, and easy to be lugged around because it would not weigh more than 16 kilograms (kg).

“The robot has a platform that will move on rollers, a microlite robotic arm that can lift objects weighing around six kilograms (kg). It has an AI-powered voice recognition faculty, which relies on color-coding. This helps it to follow the orders and filter the loud surround sounds,” Reger added.

This robot can be classified as a cobot, where they work closely with humans and help them complete a task much quicker.  

Reger pointed out a cobot called Maira. “These multi-sensing intelligent robots are being used in stores, where they assist in fetching things and serving customers who can order through their voice or even by pointing at something they want. Maira will ask you and confirm with you what you asked for,” he added.