On Tuesday, Amazon unveiled a host of new products including Astro, a mobile Alexa robot that can capture every detail of your home's layout, follow you around on video calls, and apparently even recognize people's faces. Given that Amazon is mostly known these days for leveraging various forms of surveillance to make money (when it's not running its workforce ragged), it's pretty safe to say that nobody asked for this. At the moment, you can only buy Astro if Amazon invites you to buy it first, and it costs $999.
First and foremost, Astro is a spybot. According to Amazon, the robot uses machine learning to "proactively patrol your home, investigate activity, and send you notifications when it detects something unusual," and it gives users the option to save the videos with Amazon's home surveillance product Ring. This thing even has an extendable periscope. Amazon already sells all sorts of Alexa-enabled devices that don’t move around, and so the main use case of Astro seems to be as a sort of $999 security device for the incredibly paranoid. Using an app, users can send Astro to "check on specific rooms, things, people, and even pets," according to the release. According to CNBC, which spent some time with the robot, Astro can even be set to recognize people's faces. (CNBC uses the example of Astro bringing a specific person a soda.)Astro will use "deep neural learning to map anchor points in the home," but in an overture to people understandably very freaked out by this voyeuristic little bot, Amazon says you can set out-of-bounds zones in the house; say, a bedroom. Amazon continues to expand its surveillance empire in new and interesting ways. Indeed, the company has been looking for ways to expand its Ring home surveillance system, which police departments across the country have tapped into, and which Astro can feed with its video patrols. The company also began taking preorders for its indoor Ring camera drone, which will fly around your house and take video if it detects disturbances. It remains unclear how many surveillance cameras and microphones the average person is willing to put in their home, but Amazon seems very invested in finding out.