by Karen Weiss, The New York Times Company
“Customers just don’t want Alexa on wheels,” Amazon’s head of devices Dave Limp said Tuesday at a company event. Then they began offering a technology-packed household robot that looked a lot like … Alexa on Wheels.
Less than four years in the making, the tiny robot, called Astro, has a large screen and cameras attached to a wheeled base that can navigate a home. It was part of the company’s annual device event, where Amazon unveiled a range of products, including a smart thermostat, an upgrade to its Echo lineup, and a children’s device for interactive video messaging.
Of all the products it showed, Amazon was clearly the most excited about the Astro, which was shown as the finale. And from the start, the company tried to reconcile the differences between the Astro and the company’s digital assistant Alexa. Amazon said the Astro’s large eyes on the screen, and distinct vocals, helped give the machine a “unique personality.” (At a starting price of $1,000, the Astro is also a lot more expensive than most Alexa-enabled devices.)
But the main uses offered by Amazon seem to reflect some of the capabilities of its Alexa and related products, which already have voice and camera monitoring in different rooms of a home. However, it goes on, and Limp said customers can send robots to check on people and various pets – for example, by lifting a camera on a telescope to see if the flame on the stove is still on. .
“Or if you’re doing a video call, Astro will walk around the house with you so you can continue the conversation,” he said. In a demonstration video, a child crawls on the floor at the height of the main camera as a robot follows him. The extendable arm can reach 42 inches, meaning its camera will follow an adult around the middle of the person.
Limp said Amazon had “built an entirely new technology” for the device to navigate a home, with many technologists finding the difficulty of locating and mapping different locations in a home at the same time. was discussed. The Astro didn’t seem to be able to navigate the stairs, although it stops before falling down like a Roomba.
The company said customers can request invitations to be part of its “Day 1 Edition” pilot programs, and it will begin offering them at some unspecified time this year.
“At a senior management meeting, we talked about ‘Does anyone in the room think that in five, 10 years, you’re not going to have robots in your house?'” said Charlie Tritsler, Amazon’s vice president of performance. “Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we are.'”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.