Smart screen on wheels: Amazon introduced home robot Astro

It looks like a robot vacuum cleaner that doesn’t vacuum, but can fetch a beer.

Amazon has unveiled the Astro home robot in the United States. It represents the unification of many different divisions of the company – robotics, artificial intelligence, home monitoring, cloud services – all in one autonomous device.

Astro is about 60 cm tall and weighs about 9 kg. The main driving wheels are 12 inches in diameter, which is enough to traverse door thresholds and move over carpets. The robot can move at a speed of 1 meter per second in any direction.

Inside the plastic housing are five different motors: one for each drive wheel, one for raising and lowering the camera on the tripod and two for rotating and tilting the screen. The display itself is 10 inches diagonal. It is complemented by an array of sensors and a 5 megapixel camera for video calls and face recognition of family members.

In most scenarios, the screen constantly displays two circles, imitating the eyes. On top of these, text can display Astro’s direction of travel, such as to the kitchen. It also supports animations that show how the robot reacts to your movements.

Its real “eyes” are at the base of the body, where ultrasonic sensors, time-of-flight cameras and other visualization tools allow Astro to navigate in space like a robot vacuum cleaner.

During the first introduction to a room, Astro will build a map, which will be displayed in a mobile app. There you can mark the boundaries of movement or “viewpoints” where the robot will wait for further instructions. By the way, you can control it not only from your smartphone, but also through voice commands based on the Alexa assistant.

The robot can follow the user by playing music or podcasts, create reminders and set timers, record photos and videos, as well as monitor the elderly and monitor home security. Integration with Amazon’s smart home system allows it to recognize all alarms from sensors in the apartment. For example, if a motion sensor is triggered while you’re away, Astro can go to check it out, simultaneously streaming video to your smartphone.

Astro can also deliver something indoors. At the back, it has a small payload area (up to 2 kg). By default there’s an insert with two cupholders, but it can easily be replaced with a basket for other things. In the same area is a 15-watt USB-C port. For now, it can only be used to power smartphones, but in the future Amazon plans to use it to connect additional accessories. As an example, a blood pressure cuff was mentioned.

All Astro functionality is based on Fire OS and Linux. Amazon is not yet sharing an official SDK, but says that in the future customers and developers will be able to create unique features that will allow Astro to get better over time.

Like the robot vacuum cleaner, Astro has a charging dock to which it can automatically return. It takes about 45 minutes to charge the battery from 0 to 100%, and it can run for about two hours without a boost.

Amazon says that all facial recognition processing and room map storage happens locally on the device, although “some of that data is securely sent to the cloud.” This is so that Astro can be sent remotely using a smartphone to some part of the apartment. At the same time, the robot can only be connected to one phone at a time – a security measure to help prevent unauthorized access.

Amazon is convinced that in the next five to 10 years, everyone will have some sort of robot in their home. And Astro is the company’s attempt to get to the forefront while there is little competition in this area. In the U.S., Astro will sell for $1,000, but when it hits a broader market, the price could rise to $1,500