Forget Alexa, Astro is the next step in Amazon’s infiltration into your home

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Amazon closed its year-end event with a surprise announcement: Astro, a new robot that’s essentially a tablet on wheels with enough cameras to host a video chat and map your home. It’s the next big business for Amazon to step into your home, service your needs, and make its devices essential to your daily life.

Astro is one more thing we would expect from more experienced consumer tech companies. LG rolling robot in 2016 and the Samsung Ballie in 2020

The Astro robot, which Amazon apparently started developing in 2018 by The Washington Post, seems to perform better than the others based on its listed features: it will follow you as a mobile video chat platform, broadcast live images to your mobile app remotely, patrol the house and investigate disturbances , and will likely serve as a mobile Alexa station. Well, see how real units behave when they start heading for testers in late 2021 (although a Vice report from product developers isn’t promising), and understand better if there is. a lot to be gained from a bot the size of a void spinning underfoot to answer questions and roam your home.

Here is the teaser video showing what we can expect from an Astro:

YouTube video

For Amazon, on the other hand, Astro serves a clear purpose: to anchor its services even deeper in the home. There was no new Echo speaker launched at the Amazons event, and only a new Amazon Echo Show 15 wall-mounted product, which tells us the company sees Astro as the way to serve consumers now that Echoes have saturated the market.

The big service related to Astro is the existing Ring Protect Pro, without which the bot cannot perform its autonomous patrols and intelligent investigation of suspicious activity, nor record videos to Ring cloud storage for 60 days. Another service, Alexa Guard, uses Astro to detect smoke sounds, carbon monoxide alarms, or broken glass and notify users.

If you haven’t signed up for either (purchasing an Astro comes with a six-month subscription to Ring Protect Pro), you can still manually control the robot through the mobile app. and live stream footage from the included cameras (including a few hidden in an extendable mast that rises from its cylindrical neck). But clearly, for the Day 1 Edition’s test bundle price of $ 999 ($ ​​1,499 normally, and no plans to test or sell outside of the US 50 states), you’ll probably want the full range of features.

And for that, you’ll want to sign up for all of the services, tying your daily workflow even more to Amazon products and services in a way the Echo speakers couldn’t. Which reflects Amazon’s priorities for Astro, such as Dr Robin Gaster, president of data analytics company Incumetrics and author of Behemoth, Amazon Rising: power and seduction in the Amazon eraTechToSee said via email.

“Obviously, Astro is potentially the ultimate data collection mechanism and appears to match the Echo for Information and Entertainment, the Ring for Safety, and the Halo for Health and Wellness,” said Gaster. “All aimed at making Amazon indispensable in the home. “

“Becoming the key assistant at home is obviously a long-term strategic priority for Amazon much more than for Google, its main competitor,” said Gaster. “Astro appears to be a highly preliminary toe in the water for a physical assistant miles away from being useful now, but perhaps a first step on the path to a robot butler, which could eventually be integrated into the Echo. / Ring / Halo Note that in this case the Astro would not need to collect any data: Amazon would already have everything it needs.

Astro robot

(Image credit: Amazon)

What can Astro do that Les Echos can’t?

While Amazon has its work cut out for justifying such high prices, there are things the Astro can do that the Echo or the Echo Show can’t. But they’re all situational and, for now, theoretical, as the product doesn’t have much competition in terms of functional robot assistants for consumers.

First, video chats: yes, an Echo Show can do that, but it can’t follow you around the house. How much easier is it to command Astro to walk over to someone else in another room during a voice call instead of bringing the device in yourself? Or, if the Astro can follow such subtle commands, point at a subject and have the robot point its cameras at it (for example, to show a technician the damage done to the house or have someone over you explain a recipe)?

And while an echo network can also handle assistant tasks, Astro can follow its owner to set up reminders and deliver messages, calls, and other communications that might be more convenient from an equipped robot. from a nearby screen rather than speaking by verbal commands or walking towards an Echo Show. Astro even has detachable add-ons that use its rear cargo space to haul drinks or, and I quote from its Amazon listing, a Furbo dog camera that throws treats at your pet.

But the big argument is for security: With this Ring Protect Pro subscription, you can configure Astro to use its cameras and microphones to map your home and patrol for disturbances or strangers. It certainly looks like it could comfort people away from home, especially with the Astros live camera feed to check on pets. You can also save images for up to 60 days if you are concerned that your living space may be the subject of burglaries.

And there’s another subscription service not yet on the market that Amazon revealed at its recent event: Alexa Together, which Astro is tied to to some extent. While details are vague, this service is described to help users take care of their aging loved ones remotely, and it’s possible Astro could be a kind of go-between for young caregivers to set up reminders and chat. video with the people in their care.

Astro robot

(Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Deeper Into Your Home: Should You Be Worried?

Amazon is touting Astro as an assistant that could make everyone’s life a little easier, they just need to give it access to their home and listen to everything. To be clear, Amazon has included a physical button on the bot that turns off all microphones, cameras, and motion sensors, so you can at least put on the blinders when you need privacy. Since you need cameras and motion sensors for Astro to move around, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing proposition if you want the robot to do most of its tasks.

Astro faces the same privacy concerns as the Echo and other Always-Listening / Listening products, but with many more visual and motion sensors: the new product follows you everywhere and maps your home to navigate and effectively spot disturbances, as well as to identify locals with facial recognition. That’s a lot of very personal data, which might be of concern to privacy-conscious consumers, so we reached out to Amazon to clarify what data is going where.

Facial recognition data (called Visual ID) is stored securely on the device, an Amazon spokesperson told TechToSee that it is not stored in the cloud, but mapping data is. As Astro explores your home, it sends map information derived from its navigation sensors to the cloud, where Amazon processes it along with related information to create and store your map. This allows you to view a render of your map in the Astro app, where you can change part names manually as well as set boundaries where Astro cannot enter (map data can be deleted at any time) . Data sent to the cloud is encrypted in transit and stored securely on Amazon’s servers.

There are other topical concerns about the data collected by Amazon cameras, especially as the company has expanded its partnerships with more police and fire departments in 2021, for example. The edge, which led Amazon to hand over the recordings and information captured by its Ring video doorbell devices. Most importantly, these cameras do not point to the house and are subject to subpoenas. As Amazon’s spokesperson told TechToSee, “Requests for assistance from public safety agencies do not support video sharing from indoor cameras, including Astro.”

And then there is the big worry: for Amazon to do what Amazon has done with user data on its platforms and sell the data collected by Astro. To be clear, there is no record of Amazon doing it with audio data recorded by Echo speakers, for comparison. When TechToSee asked Amazon if it would use customer behavior Astro collected (home heat maps, daily schedules, overheard conversations) for other purposes, like fine-tuning non-Astro services or sending to partners or the In ad, an Amazon spokesperson replied curtly, “For us to consider this change would require delivering disproportionate benefits to customers and providing the right customer controls.

Whether or not it passes data to a party outside of Amazon, the Astro will certainly collect more than any of the company’s products before something that may not be suitable for privacy advocates and business people. security experts, but one that the public might not care enough about.

“Astro can also be a litmus test, an opportunity to see where exactly privacy concerns become operational,” Gaster told TechToSee. “So far, the success of the Echo / Ring / suggests that privacy concerns are not at all a hindrance to Amazon’s domestic ambitions.”

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