Amazon caught the world by surprise with the announcement of the Astro robot at its September event this year. Of all the devices analysts predicted, a roving camera bot was not among them. The company promised a lot with this new device, including incredibly advanced features like individual facial recognition, superior navigation and avoidance, and much more. If you’re out of the loop and trying to catch up on all the news surrounding this little device, here’s what you need to know.
Designed to rove around the home
Amazon calls Astro a “home robot.” This little device is designed to be an assistant throughout the home, helping with everything from home security to carrying cargo. It has no arms but does come with a cargo bin. Users can place an item in the bin (or in one of the accessories, like a cup holder — sold separately, of course) and ask Astro to take the item to another member of the home. Thanks to facial recognition features, Astro can be taught to distinguish different family members from one another. If your spouse asks for a beer while watching the football game, just pass one to Astro and let it handle it.
One example Amazon showed off for how useful the robot could be was in assisting elderly family members: Checking on them, taking a video call to them, and more. Despite all of these features, the main area where Astro is likely to excel is in its ability to keep an eye on the home. This little robot is equipped with a variety of cameras and sensors.
A display that sees and smiles
Its “face” is a screen that can stream video calls, play Prime Video, and much more. It holds some of the same features as the newer Echo Shows in that it can move to keep you centered in the frame, but it takes this feature a step farther by following users around the home to keep them centered. Large wheels and advanced navigation features allow it to maneuver around the home with ease, while a powerful braking system lets Astro stop if an obstacle appears in front of it.
It utilizes SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) technology to maneuver through the home. There’s no reason why it should, but Astro evokes the same sense as a canine. I can’t help but think back to the Jetsons’ dog, also named Astro, when I look at it.
Security guard when you’re not home
Astro is primarily designed to be a security measure within the home. Its powerful security features allow it to watch out for potential trouble inside your home, even without your input. Astro can autonomously patrol your home and investigate unusual events. It picks up on these events through motion and sound detection. For example, it utilizes the same features as Alexa Guard. If Astro detects the sound of breaking glass or a beeping fire alarm, it can go investigate.
A periscope camera in the middle of Astro’s “head” can telescope to get a better view of a room and its contents. Amazon showed Astro using this camera to keep an eye on a room as part of its scanning mode. However, this can also be used to investigate specific things — like whether or not you turned off the oven or locked the front door. Any video recordings made through Astro are saved to the cloud through the Ring Protect Pro service.
In a way, a roving security robot can be helpful. It reduces the need for multiple cameras in the home, but many people have raised concerns about the privacy implications of a device like this. According to Amazon, Astro was built with a strong focus on privacy. It has a physical button to turn off the camera, the mics, and its ability to move. When Astro is streaming video, an LED atop the periscope lights up.
Battery life on par with that of robot vacuums
Astro uses a docking system similar to that of robot vacuums. When not in use, it will dock itself to recharge. Based on technical specifications, Astro can reach a full charge in around 45 minutes to an hour and will be able to run for up to several hours before it needs to be recharged.
The robot’s effective battery life will largely depend on how much you use it, as well as what you use it for. A simple patrol won’t take as much battery power as using Astro to make video calls or stream content.
Can it fall down stairs?
On the same day of Astro’s announcement, there was a leaked report about the efficacy of the robot and claimed it was far more fragile than Amazon said. It also claimed Astro tumbled down stairs on a regular basis during early development. While this may be true, Amazon contradicts these comments — and our own experience with similar navigation systems throws some skepticism on the claims about Astro’s inability to navigate. Custom cliff sensors on Astro will help it to distinguish what’s in its navigational path to prevent it from going over stairs.
Can it work with Siri and Google Assistant?
No word has been given on whether Astro will work with Siri or Google Assistant, but it likely will not. Given that this is specifically an Amazon device, it will likely push the Alexa ecosystem forward.
How much does Astro weigh?
Based on Amazon’s provided technical specs, Astro weighs about 20.6 pounds.
What happens if the Wi-Fi turns off?
If Astro can no longer stream to the cloud, you won’t receive alerts or notifications until the connection is restored. It isn’t clear whether Astro will include an SD card port for onboard memory, although the device does have USB-C port.
Pricing and availability
Its retail price is $1,449.99, but as part of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions program, Astro can be purchased for $1,000 with a six-month trial of Ring Protect Pro included.
Although a firm date has not been given, Amazon plans to start sending invitations and shipping devices to customers later in the year. Initial quantities will be limited.
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