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Say hello to Astro: Amazon launches home robot

A nifty home robot that can detect a stranger in your house, check if you’ve left the stove on or bring you a drink may once have only been seen on The Jetsons, but not any longer.

Amazon unveiled its home robot, affectionately named Astro, at its annual devices and services event last week, promising that the tiny, three-wheeled assistant would be “our first robot, not our last.”

With built-in Alexa, Astro can do everything from simply playing music to reminding you that it’s going to rain today, as well as follow you from room-to-room so you can watch your favourite show, listen to a podcast or find you to deliver a phone call.

Astro can also memorise the floor plan of your house, as well as your family member’s faces and it uses simultaneous localisation and mapping technology to ensure it doesn’t fall down the stairs or run into the cat.

Equipped with a camera on a periscope arm, Astro can even check if you’ve left the stove, the iron or the hair straightener on, with vision delivered to you via the Astro App.

In an Amazon blog, vice president of products Charlie Tritschler said Astro was about a lot more than just looking cool and delivering technology for technology’s sake.

“Astro is a new and different kind of robot, one that’s designed to help customers with a range of tasks like home monitoring and keeping in touch with family,” he said.

“It brings together new advancements in artificial intelligence, computer vision, sensor technology, and voice and edge computing in a package that’s designed to be helpful and convenient.”

One of the main ways Astro can help is by showing you a live view of the rooms in your home when you’re out.

It can even send you an alert if it detects an unrecognized person.

“With Alexa Guard, Astro can also detect the sound of a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm, or glass breaking, and send an alert to your phone – helping you keep your home safe, even when you’re somewhere else,” Mr Tritschler said.

Mr Tritschler said Astro could also help people who are remotely caring for a loved one, with Astro able to set and deliver reminders or use Drop In to stay connected.

Astro also works with Ring and Ring Protect Pro, a subscription service, so you can patrol your home when you’re not there and save video to Ring cloud storage that you can look at in the Ring and Astro apps.

Other features include a detachable cup holder so you can get Astro to deliver you a drink and it will also soon work with Alexa Together so you can manage shopping lists and receive activity alerts.

Mr Tritschler said when Astro was being developed, they knew they had to give the robot a personality to make “interactions more delightful”.

“We used feedback from hundreds of internal testers, and also took inspiration from film, TV, games, and animation principles to develop a persona that makes Astro unique,” he said. 

“Astro uses its digital eyes on its rotating screen, body movements, and expressive tones to communicate. 

“Its personality is also helpful—for example, it hangs out in places where it can be the most useful. For me, that’s in the kitchen, where I’m typically asking for a recipe or sending Astro to tell my family that dinner is ready.”

For privacy, you can also turn off Astro’s microphone, camera and motion, as well as set out of bounds areas so the robot knows where it can and can’t go.

Astro is a Day 1 Edition product, which means it won’t be sold to everyone initially, but is available by invitation at the introductory price of $US1000. Once fully released to market it will sell for US$1450.

An Australian and New Zealand release date has not been announced but Amazon said consumers Down Under would not miss out on Astro.

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