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Despite its new features, Astro is still impractical for most people

Amazon’s Astro is among the most interesting devices in its entire product lineup. The idea of an intelligent home robot tickles something deep in our psyches, harking back to old episodes of The Jetsons. At its Devices & Services event, Amazon announced a ton of new features for Astro that make it more useful than before, and even expand its functionality to small businesses, too. Yet despite all these features and updates, the Astro remains largely impractical for most people.

If you’re going to drop almost $1,500 on a robot, it needs to do more than look at things.

Astro looking at a dog on a couch.

The Astro is limited to one floor

A lot of people live in one-floor homes. Equally as many live in townhouses or multi-floor or split-level homes. The Astro has some cool features, but it’s a little bit limited when you consider that it can’t climb stairs. There’s only so much the Astro can do in terms of home security if it can’t actually investigate the entire home. The same applies to its new pet detection feature. If you want to use Astro to check on your pet while you’re out of the house, it can do that — provided the pet is on the same floor as the Astro.

I see the potential implementations of an in-home drone or robot that can go and check on whether the doors and windows are shut and alert you if they aren’t, but it needs to account for all types of homes. Astro’s ability to learn the state of an object — whether that’s a locked door or the position of a knob on the stove — is tremendously useful and can be a great help to someone living on their own, but it needs to be able to make its way up and down stairs. Whether that can be accomplished through the use of extendable arms similar to what Boston Dynamics has accomplished, or through some other method of locomotion, I don’t know.

It just seems that I could set up a system of security cameras to monitor all the same things Astro does, and potentially for a lot less cost.

If you do live in a one-floor home, Astro does have a lot going for it. The Virtual Security Guard feature links it with Ring’s professional monitoring service. Astro can be sent to investigate a triggered alarm or motion sensor and provide Ring’s Rapid Response Agents with a better view of what’s happening. It can also patrol and keep an eye on things on its own, and thanks to new updates, it can even send a quick picture or video of what your pet is up to.

Astro patrolling a business with Ring Virtual Security Guard on its screen.

Astro just isn’t available for most people

Even if you’re in a situation where you could get a lot of use out of Astro, there’s another problem: it’s still invite-only. You have to apply to purchase the robot. If you’re selected, you get the early-bird price of $1,000, versus the $1,450 it will supposedly retail at once it becomes widely available. I had hoped to see a more widespread release of the Astro at this year’s event, but that wasn’t in the cards. Still, the announcement had promise. The new features coming to Astro mean the product is still under development, and the current model is the Day 1 Edition. Astro is still on the way, but it’s just not yet ready.

It’s speculation, but I suspect Amazon is waiting to see the level of demand for something like the Astro before opening it up to mass purchase. Getting real-world usage statistics and customer feedback will help the company calibrate it for a broader audience. Of course, if the demand isn’t high enough, Astro might never become available.

Astro needs arms

One of the main focal points for Astro’s utility is how it can serve elderly family members and keep an eye on them through Alexa Together. While awareness is absolutely a necessary part of caring for a loved one while still allowing them their independence, Astro could do much more if it only had arms. The ability to pick something up off the floor or simply carry items for someone would elevate its functionality far beyond where it is now. Imagine if it could help someone bring in groceries from the car, carry a glass of water, or just deliver medicines when it’s time for another dose.

Astro looking at an open front door of a home.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

But perhaps those arms don’t have to be physical, although that would be ideal. Amazon also announced a new SDK that would allow third-party developers to begin designing functions for Astro. By opening up the platform to other companies, Amazon has set the stage for a lot of innovation and creativity.

Astro is an awesome creation, and one I’m excited to see grow. The smart home has evolved in many different ways, and while it is leaps and bounds ahead of where it started, there’s still room to grow — and I believe home robots will be at least one aspect of that.

Interested in finding out more about what Amazon announced today? Check out our roundup of announcements.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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