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Amazon Astro brings a high-tech ‘WALL-E’-like robot into your home

Nothing says cool tech more than robots. And Amazon has taken a stab at the tech with Astro, a companion robot that’s also like a robot guard dog. It looks like a cross between WALL-E and a bit of Rosey from The Jetsons (no intentional Astro the dog references, unfortunately)and then mixed with an Echo Show display with round, expressive “eyes.”

Amazon envisions it as a companion robot that can keep the elderly in your family company. It can help them go on video calls with loved ones with its 5-megapixel camera and even throw a beatbox party if that’s something they’ll be interested in. Astro comes with facial recognition, so you can set routines to remind an elderly loved one to take medication. The robot will then look for them and deliver the reminder. The company plans to integrate Astro into its new Alexa Together service, which can provide access to an emergency helpline and support for fall detection devices.

The two-foot-tall, 20-pound robot has a 10-inch touchscreen, an array of sensors (like ultrasonic sensors, time-of-flight cameras, and other imaging tools), cameras, microphones, a couple of two-inch speakers and a passive resonator for better bass output, and wheels that go multi-directionally. It is powered by two Qualcomm chips with artificial intelligence processing, runs on an operating system based on FireOS and Linux, and has five motors.

Once it’s mapped your floor plan, Astro can follow you around. It’s not built to handle stairs, so it’s going to stay on one level. And like your robot vacuums, it’ll return to its charging base when it’s low on battery. Charging from zero to 100% takes around 45 minutes, and it can go around for about two hours of motion between charges.

You can control it via the app or by voice command. With Alexa integrated, you can interact with it as you would other Alexa-enabled smart devices. The difference is this device can follow you around if you want.

It can be paired with one phone at a time as a security measure to prevent unauthorized access. Processing and storage of your floor plan are done on the device, with a “portion of that data is sent securely to the cloud” so you can tell Astro where to go using the app.

With the help of computer vision, Astro can also be like a roving smart home camera and check in on your house. It has a dedicated 12-megapixel periscope cam that pops up from its head and goes up to a height of 42 inches. It also has Alexa Guard integration, so it can alert you to sounds like a smoke alarm or broken window.

Amazon is working on including accessories for Astro and wants third parties to develop other accessories for Astro. Some of those mentioned include a Furbo Dog Camera that can toss treats to your pet, and another is a Ziploc container. There’s an Omron blood pressure monitor and even a detachable cup holder. That last one comes standard with Astro. We’ve seen in Amazon’s promo video how Astro delivered beer to someone. It can carry anything that weighs less than five pounds. Not quite Rosey with robotic arms, but close enough.

The e-commerce giant emphasized privacy and security with Astro, saying it incorporated Alexa’s standard privacy features. You can designate no-go zones for Astro and set “Do not disturb” times. Your facial recognition data is stored locally on Astro. Of course, we can’t wholly discount those concerned about constantly having a camera and microphone around your home 24/7.

There was even a leaked document shared by Vice that claims Astro isn’t ready for release yet, with concerns about privacy and its durability among the top issues. As expected, Amazon has denied the accusations, saying the leaked information isn’t how Astro works now.

But as mentioned by some tech sites, it makes sense then that Amazon’s rolling out Astro on an invite basis. Right now, Astro is more of a robotic pet with some extra smarts, and there’s still a lot more room for improvement.

If you’re still interested, you can request an invite, and then you’ll need to fill out a survey where you’ll need to share information about your home to see if it’s a good fit for the small robot. If you qualify, Amazon Astro Day 1 Edition has an introductory price of USD 999.99 (PHP 50,540), including a six-month trial of Ring Protect Pro. When Amazon releases Astro more broadly, its price will go up to USD 1,449.99 (PHP 73,283).

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