Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
Blink gets a wired floodlight camera and a pan-and-tilt mount
The Blink Mini installed in the Pan-Tilt Mount.

Amazon didn’t pull any punches during its Devices & Services event, announcing a slew of new gadgets that’ll help customers build their perfect smart home. The Blink lineup was a particular standout, with both the Blink Wired Floodlight Camera and Blink Mini Pan Tilt mount getting an official reveal during the livestream.

The Amazon-owned Blink already offered a robust lineup of cameras and security systems, but a wired floodlight was noticeably missing from its catalog. That’ll change within the next few months with the arrival of the aptly named Blink Wired Floodlight Camera. Offering 2,600 lumens of LED lighting, 1080p footage, two-way audio, and a simple setup that doesn’t require professional know-how, the new floodlight is hoping to be a reliable security device that doesn’t break the bank.

Read more
New Amazon Echos bring ‘dot displays’ and mesh networking, plus models for kids and cars
The Echo Dot with Clock sits on a table.

At Wednesday's Amazon Devices & Services event, the company announced a brand-new lineup of Echo Dot devices. These include a new Echo Dot, Echo Dot with Clock, Echo Dot Kids, and a new Echo Auto device. The Echo Studio also received a couple of more color options, as well as a software upgrade.

All of these devices feature updated technology and several new features that make them well worth the upgrade, and pre-orders start today. If you want to snag one of these new Echo products for yourself, you can expect to receive it sometime next month.
Echo Dot
The new Echo Dot retains the spherical design of its predecessor, but with new technology on the inside that gives it a lot more power. It features a custom full-range driver and the most powerful excursion speaker of any Echo Dot, which allows it to produce double the bass of the previous generation.

Read more
Amazon’s Halo Rise is an alarm clock, sleep tracker, and wake-up light in one
The Amazon Halo Rise displaying a wake-up light.

Poor sleep is a problem plaguing a lot of people. Little interruptions, whether it's your partner turning over, a cat jumping onto the bed, or any one of a dozen other things can impact how refreshed you feel when you wake up. The new Amazon Halo Rise will help you get a better night's sleep by breaking down information about everything from your sleep itself to the environment around you.

Announced as part of Amazon's fall device event, the Halo Rise looks a bit like a ring light, but combines the functionality of a sleep tracker, smart alarm, and wake-up light in one. Onboard AI learns the users' sleep stages and details information about temperature and humidity in the room, as well as light levels. One key thing to note is that there's no microphone or camera on the Halo Rise; while it can be paired with Alexa, it's built with privacy in mind.

Read more