Just in case you wanted a robot butler to follow you around the house, Amazon is reportedly working on an Alexa bot with wheels that can be summoned via voice commands.
The robot, reportedly codenamed Vesta, is purportedly being developed by Amazon Lab126 — a research facility based in Sunnyvale, California.
Vesta was initially reported on by Bloomberg last year. The report, which cited sources familiar with the product, said prototypes of the bot are about waist-high, feature advanced cameras and computer vision, and can navigate through homes like driverless cars.
Supposedly, we were set to see Vesta hit the market earlier this year, but a new Bloomberg report published this week says it isn’t ready for mass production yet.
That’s usually a not-so-great sign for home robots — which had an awful 2018 as many buzzworthy robots such as Jibo and Kuri shuttered operations. However, Bloomberg notes that the company has pulled engineers from other projects to work on Vesta. At the very least, that signals Amazon hasn’t given up on a home robot making it to market. It does raise some questions, however.
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Firstly, what exactly would an Alexa robot do? Other failed home bots are usually aimed at being adorable, somewhat helpful companions.
Jibo for instance, could not only answer questions — sort of like an Alexa — but was also programmed to interact in cute ways, such as twerking on command or scanning a room for monsters. Kuri included a camera so it could act like a pseudo-security bot and family filmographer, on top of purring when you pat it.
On the other hand, Amazon has purposefully kept Alexa rather neutral in the personality department, according to Bloomberg — though you can ask her to rap, but be forewarned, the results are cringey.
The reported inclusion of wheels, voice summoning and computer vision would seem to indicate the Vesta can follow you around, acting as a sort of mobile Echo device for rooms where you don’t have an Echo nearby.
Not saying that’d be silly — but it’s also sort of pointless to shell out hundreds of dollars if what you’re getting is basically the equivalent of sticking an Echo speaker on a Roomba. It may not be elegant, but most people could do that themselves with a healthy amount of duct tape.
We reached out to Amazon, but a spokesperson said the company does not comment on “rumours or speculation”.
Still, if the Vesta does go to market, it would have one advantage. Over a quarter of the adult US population now owns a smart speaker, with 61 per cent using some kind of Amazon Echo device, according to a January 2019 industry survey.
That sort of familiarity, plus Amazon’s deep pockets, gives it a leg up over the independent home robot ventures that have thus far failed to gain significant traction with consumers. And if Amazon can figure out how to bring the price down, then it might be onto something.
Speaking of the Amazon Echo, Bloomberg also reports we could see a new, beefier Echo by next year. The prototype is said to be wider than the current Echo, so it can include four tweeters. Audio quality isn’t all that great on Echo speakers — a point competitors such as Google Nest Hub, Sonos and Apple’s HomePod all like to point out in their marketing.
In any case, both rumours point to Amazon cooking up new ways to invade your home — and stay there.