The Jetsons, a family from the future who lived in space and drove flying cars, as well as their dog Astro, were introduced to TV viewers in the fall of 1962. Amazon wants you to get to know a different kind of Astro—one that is more grounded in reality and less magical or futuristic than the Jetsons. The long-rumored home helper robot from Amazon, dubbed Astro, is not a dog.
The Astro is Amazon’s most ambitious in-home product to date. It will cost $999.99 at launch and be available as a Day 1 Edition product for which you must request an invite. Amazon envisions it as uniting many of the company’s divisions into one device, including robots, AI, home monitoring, and cloud services. The easiest way to explain it is as the offspring of a Roomba with an Echo Show smart display.
It can map out your floor plan and follow directions to a certain room. It can deliver goods to a specific person and recognize faces.
Like every Echo smart display, it has the ability to play music, display the weather, and respond to inquiries. When used for video calls, it actually moves with you to keep you constantly in the frame.
When you’re not home, it can wander about your home checking on everything. If you want to check if you’ve turned off the stove, it can raise its periscope camera.
It can record information like blood pressure using third-party accessories.
Even so, the Astro is still very much a first attempt at what a robotic house helper may be. It lacks arms and other appendages, is unable to clean your floors, climb stairs, leave your house, and probably a million more things that I’m not now thinking of. Because it still has a lot to figure out even after years of development, Amazon is restricting its initial distribution.
Astro weighs about 20 pounds and is about two feet tall. Its main drive wheels, which are around 12 inches in diameter and big enough to move through the carpet and over door thresholds, are balanced by a single caster in the back. The Astro has a top speed of one meter per second and is capable of turning 360 degrees, moving forward or backward, or moving in any other direction.
Under the plastic-coated shell, there are five different motors: two to twist and tilt the “face,” one for each drive wheel, and one to raise and descend the periscope camera.
The screen of an Echo Show 10 was basically lifted to create that face. In most cases, the screen shows two circles that act as “eyes,” letting you know what the Astro is doing or where it’s headed. These circles can also be bent into various shapes and angles to display some limited personality, much like the expressions of the unfortunate Jibo or the similarly unfortunate Cozmo.
But the Astro doesn’t see you or its surroundings through those circles. The robot’s true “eyes” are a multitude of sensors and cameras that are crammed into the base of the device, including time-of-flight cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and other imaging equipment that allows the robot to see what is around it and where it is moving.
The Astro has all of its own internal navigational tools; unlike some robot vacuums, it doesn’t require special boundary markers or other external guidelines. It also has the ability to sense when it is about to fall down stairs or collide with something.
Another resemblance to a robot vacuum is how the Astro will map out your house using these sensors. In the Astro mobile app, you may give each room a name and change the room boundaries.
You may even program the robot to remember particular “viewpoints” throughout your house. From there, you may either use voice commands or remote control via an app to direct the Astro to a certain area. Since the Astro cannot ascend or descend stairs, Amazon anticipates that most owners will keep it on their main floor.
All local processing and storage for these maps is handled by the device, according to Amazon. So that you may direct the Astro using the smartphone app, “part of the data is sent securely to the cloud.” The Astro can only be paired to one phone at a time as a security measure to help prevent unwanted access or use. Similar to that, Astro stores its facial recognition data locally.