“Customers don’t just want Alexa on wheels,” Dave Limp, the head of Amazon’s devices, said at a company event on Tuesday. Then he proceeded to introduce a technology-packed home robot that looked a lot like … Alexa on wheels.
At least four years in the making, the small 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 devices event, where Amazon unveiled an array of products, including a smart thermostat, upgrades to its Echo lineup and a children’s device for interactive video messaging.
Of all the products it showed, Amazon was clearly most excited about Astro, which was shown as the finale. And from the start, the company tried to sort out the differences between Astro and Alexa, the company’s digital assistant. Amazon said Astro’s large eyes on the screen, and the different tones it emitted, helped give the machine a “unique persona.” (At a starting price of $1,000, Astro is also a lot more expensive than most Alexa-enabled devices.)
But the main uses Amazon presented seemed to mirror some of the abilities of its Alexa and related products, which already put voice and camera surveillance in different rooms of a house. It does move, though, and Mr. Limp said customers could send the robot to check on people and different pets — for example, raising a camera on a telescopic arm to see if the flame on a stove is still on.
“Or if you are doing a video call, Astro will move around with you in the house, so you can continue the conversation,” he said. In a demonstration video, a child crawled around on the floor at the height of the main camera as the robot followed it. The extendable arm can reach as high as 42 inches, meaning its camera would follow an adult roughly around the person’s midsection.
Mr. Limp said Amazon had built “an entirely new technology construct” for the device to navigate a home, with several technologists discussing the difficulty of locating and mapping the varied spaces in a house at the same time. Astro did not appear to be able to navigate stairs, though it stops before tumbling down them, like a Roomba.
The company said customers could request invitations to be part of its “Day 1 Editions” pilot programs, and that it would start granting them at some unspecified time this year.
“In one of the senior management meetings, we talked about ‘Does anybody in the room think that in five, 10 years, you’re not going to have robots in your home?’” Charlie Tritschler, an Amazon vice president, said in the presentation. “Everyone was like, ‘Yeah, we are.’”