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Amazon’s new Astro robot puts Alexa on wheels

Amazon’s new Astro robot puts Alexa on wheels
29 Sep, 2021

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is slowly turning into a full-fledged robot. In its biggest step yet, the company announced Astro, a home assistant robot that stands just about two feet high and weighs just under 10 kg. It has a large screen, cameras and a wheeled base so it can follow you around in your home. “Astro is a new and different kind of robot, one that’s designed to help customers with a range of tasks like home monitoring and keeping in touch with family,” the company said in a blog post

“It brings together new advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), computer vision, sensor technology, and voice and edge computing in a package that’s designed to be helpful and convenient,” the post adds. The company envisions Astro doing tasks like autonomously monitoring your home, helping in elder care and more.

The robot can be set to autonomously monitor the user’s home when they’re away. It can also follow the user from one room to the next while playing music, or streaming videos on the screen. “It can also find you to deliver reminders, let you know that a timer went off, snap a family photo, and notify you of incoming Alexa calls—with the ability to follow you around your home while you are on the call,” the company said.

It also has advanced software and sensors which allows it to recognize dynamic changes in the household. Astro recognizes furniture or things on the floor that weren’t there earlier, and navigates around it. Amazon released the video below to explain the science behind the robot.

Astro also uses sensors to automatically brake if a pet comes in the way, or it detects stairs or other obstacles. It also uses a computer vision-powered feature called visual ID, which is stored on-device, and allows users to teach the robot to detect different members of the household.

Unlike other Alexa-powered speakers, Amazon says the company wanted to give Astro a personality. Though the robot doesn’t fall in the humanoid category, its screen shows two expressive digital eyes and it uses “expressive tones” to communicate with humans, according to Amazon. The company claims that its personality helps it communicate intent and “evokes emotions” like empathy.

The focus on emotions suggests that Amazon is looking at Astro in the same way companies like Sony and Xiaomi look at their robotic dogs. Xiaomi announced the CyberDog earlier this year, a robotic dog that’s meant to be a pet. Sony did the same with a smaller robotic dog called Aibo, which is sold only in Japan, a few years ago. Such robots are meant to become a part of a family, instead of being a colourless device that only performs mundane tasks like turning on the lights.

Overall, Astro seems like a step forward in home robotics, and looks to be more advanced than home cleaning robots from Roomba or Xiaomi’s Mi Vacuum Cleaner. It’s also quite expensive, at $1449.99 (over Rs. 1,11,000) through Amazon's invite-only Day 1 Edition program, and an introductory price of $999.99. The company said Astro will be available in “limited quantities” and will be available only in the US right now.