A primary take a look at the $ 999 Astro


Amazon Astro home robot

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Amazon announced its long-rumored home robot on Tuesday. It’s called Astro and it sells for $ 999. I had the chance to try it out in a demo with Amazon last week and wanted to share a few thoughts on what Astro is, what it can and can’t, and why Amazon decided to build a home robot.

Astro seems like an odd gadget for Amazon. The company is best known as an online shop. And most of its operating profit comes from its AWS cloud business.

It is noteworthy that Astro is a “Day 1 Edition” product, which means that it will not initially be sold to everyone. Instead, Amazon will ask people to sign up and then invite them to order the robot. This can help Amazon avoid building too many gadgets it won’t sell and a public flop like the Amazon Fire Phone, which was discontinued in 2015.

Amazon said Astro will go on sale later this year, but didn’t provide an exact start date. It’s worth noting that Amazon made similar promises about future products that either never hit the market or were severely delayed.

So why robots?

Amazon Astro home robot

Todd Haselton | CNBC

“We meet every now and then and organize a senior team meeting to ask, ‘What are some of the changes in technology?'” Said Charlie Tritschler, Vice President of Product at Amazon. “And we talked about AI and processors getting more powerful, and inevitably robotics came along. And one of the discussions was, ‘Does anyone here at this meeting think that there won’t be more robots in your home in 5-10 years? ‘And everyone said,’ Well, of course. ‘ It’s like, ‘Well, let’s go then.’ “

Tritschler said Astro brings together a lot of what Amazon already offers in other products.

“We’ve had more than a decade with what we’ve done in fulfillment centers” – with the company’s industrial robots moving products through its warehouses – “but then all the things we’ve done in devices and Amazon Prime Video and Alexa and Home Monitoring, and we had so many things to bring together, “Tritschler said.

That’s a good representation of what I saw in the demo.

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What is astro

Astro is roughly the size of a small dog. It rides around your house on three wheels, including two large ones to keep it from getting stuck and a smaller one to spin around. It has a camera that rises on a 42-inch arm that can keep an eye on your home while Astro patrols while you are away. It can follow you and play music or watch TV shows on its 10-inch touchscreen. It can recognize faces – if you want – so you can put two sodas in the back storage compartment and tell Astro to take them to someone in the living room.

Astro is like a combination of many other Amazon gadgets on wheels. The cameras can be used for home security or video chatting by combining Amazon’s ring cameras with the Echo Show smartscreens. The cameras are also used to map your home when you first set up Astro. You can talk to Astro in a similar way to an Echo or Alexa – you can change the name in Alexa if you want – to get sports results or the weather. And you can play movies or TV shows just like you would on an Amazon tablet or Fire TV.

Astro can carry things in this box. You can also add accessories like a cup holder or an Omron blood pressure monitor.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

I’ve also seen how you can control Astro remotely from a phone app, which is useful when you want to keep tabs on a loved one who lives alone, like an aging family member. Tritschler told me that Amazon will also sell a third-party insert from Omron that fits in the rear storage compartment and can hold a blood pressure cuff. That will allow people to control Astro remotely and remind people who live alone to check their blood pressure, which seems useful and opens Astro to an audience that isn’t just gadget freaks who want a home robot .

But Astro doesn’t have arms or hands, so he can’t pick up anything. It’s not quite the level of Rosie, the robot from the TV show “The Jetsons”. (Speaking of the show, Astro isn’t named after the Jetsons dog, Tritschler said. Early testers just preferred that name to others.) It can’t go up or down stairs either, so it’s really only good for a one floor house.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if manipulation could do more? Could you have an arm picking things up or tidying things up or bringing you drinks? Reliability at consumer level, they’re just not there yet, “said Tritschler.” And we noticed, hey, this is a journey, we don’t have to do everything in the first product. So here we focus on mobility, intelligent movement, visual identification and focused on some of the other really tough challenges we faced. “

The periscope camera emerging from the Amazon astro robot.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

I’m torn how I think about Astro.

On the one hand: Wow, cool that we finally have a home robot, even if it can’t tidy up and get things out of the fridge for me. On the other hand, I can’t really think of many reasons why I would need one in my house at the current price, other than as a conversation starter or for home security as a roaming robot seems effective.

I think Astro will be most compelling for people who want to keep track of loved ones, who live alone, and who might find it useful to call a robot with their medication or a blood pressure monitor in their closet.

Sensors on the front of the astro robot prevent it from coming into contact with objects.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

However, Tritschler said Amazon is optimistic about robots and made it clear that this is only the first. Amazon has a lot of ideas on how to improve them. I blew the Amazon Echo when it first launched in 2014. Now millions of people have one in their homes. Perhaps that will also apply to Astro in 10 years’ time. That is the goal of Amazon.