Tech companies are certain that you want a personal robot for your home, despite all evidence to the contrary. Amazon is giving it a shot with a bot named Astro who finally answers the question: “What if Wall-E were real, evil, and knew how to beatbox?”
Astro is a tiny home assistant robot that Amazon executives menacingly described during the event as “our first robot, not our last,” which makes sense, given that this thing is so small and has so little utility that we likely still have at least three or four increasingly sinister iterations to go until we arrive at the cyborg assassins from Terminator.
At its most essential, Astro functions like any other home assistant would: With built-in Alexa, it can play music, tell you the weather, and answer random questions, with the added ability to scoot around your house on wheels, memorising its floor plan, your family’s faces, and the rooms where your children sleep. It can move at up to one metre per second, and uses SLAM (simultaneous localisation and mapping) technology to pick its way around the contours of a room so that it’s not tripping down your stairs or over your dog. Astro also has a periscope arm with a camera that it can raise up out of the top of its head so that you can do things like check to make sure that you turned the stove off before you left the house. Also, it can beatbox.
Much fanfare has already been made in the blogosphere about the device’s wide, soulless eyes and the “personality” its creators have imbued it with, and Amazon itself has claimed that the device is capable of evoking human emotions like empathy when people use it. But the fact that Astro has eyebrows (which is what I’m guessing empathy means, in this scenario?) is not enough to offset the threat to privacy that an ever-expanding network of home security devices capable of consorting directly with the police poses to consumers. Just like its other Alexa devices, Amazon has designed Astro to become smarter and more capable over time — which means that people are about to start buying 9 kg robot servants for their homes that can recognise their faces, learn their habits, and even use third-party accessories to take their blood pressure.
Seriously, has no one seen a movie before? Like, ever?
Astro also comes with a microphone and camera kill switch that customers can press whenever they want to disable the device from recording or scurrying around like a little narc butler, which is I guess supposed to be enough to allay every single one of the hundreds of privacy concerns this thing raises.
Astro is coming to market later this year for $US1,500 ($2,074), but members of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program will be able to snag it for an introductory price of $US1,000 ($1,383) with a 6-month trial of the Ring Protect Pro subscription thrown in. What a steal.