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Amazon reveals the science behind Astro, its new home robot

Amazon has unveiled a canine-like home robot assistant called Astro.

The Alexa-powered, wheel-based bot is designed for a range of functions, including home security, communication, entertainment, and transportation (in its slick promo video, it’s seen carrying a beer, though it doesn’t have a robotic arm to actually grab one). Astro has a cute look, too, mainly thanks to its big round “eyes” that appear on a display located at the front of the machine.

Amazon isn’t shipping Astro until later this year, so we’ve no idea yet if it will perform anywhere near as well as it does in the promo video.

Shortly after unveiling the robot on Tuesday, September 28, Amazon also dropped a video (below) titled “The Science Behind Astro,” in which some of the engineers who worked on the device chat about how the project developed.

“We’ve pulled together technologies from all these different areas to build something that so many roboticists have been dreaming about and thinking about,” said Gregg Zeher, president of Lab126, Amazon’s hardware research unit. “The question wasn’t ‘should we build it?’ but ‘why wouldn’t we?’”

Astro features SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) technology that uses cameras and sensors to help it build a map of its surroundings, ensuring it can navigate its environment autonomously, efficiently, and, most importantly, safely.

Ken Kiraly, Lab126 vice president and one of the engineers behind the creation of the Kindle e-book reader, said Astro is “unlike anything I’ve ever done before,” adding: “The technology that we have built, I look at as foundational.”

There have been many attempts by various companies to build a truly useful home-based robot that is designed to be part of the family, but most efforts have fallen short of expectations. Amazon has already honed some of the technology built into Astro, such as its Alexa digital assistant and Ring security system, so that should play to its advantage.

But whether folks will want to part with $1,449 for what some might see as an Echo Show on wheels (that can’t go up or down stairs) remains to be seen.

For some ideas on home robots that can perform chores that Astro can’t, check out these ideas from Digital Trends.

Amazon unveiled a raft of other devices at its annual hardware event this week, including a wall-mountable Echo Show and a “digital playground” for kids called Glow. It also offered an update on its flying security camera.

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Trevor Mogg
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