Amazon’s New Household Robot Can Learn Your Family’s Habits

Amazon's Astro robot which can be used to patrol households. Image sourced from BBC.

Amazon has revealed a new camera-equipped home robot that can patrol homes and investigate activity on your orders in a move that the billion-dollar tech giant is calling “a breakthrough for security and convenience.”

The “Astro” robot as Amazon calls it is roughly 60cm tall and weighs around 9kgs. The motorised device can map out the floor plan and layout of your home and obey commands to go to a specific place to take a closer look using its telescoping camera.

“Now when you are away, you can use it to proactively patrol your home and investigate the activity,” Amazon executive Dave Limp said in a product launch clip, quoted by Media24.

Astro can work together with Amazon’s Alexa digital home assistant and can be taught to recognise faces and learn the habits of household members.

The little robot is being marketed as a remote security camera system. When users are away, they will most likely receive notifications of strange activity that Astro picks up through its camera. Then a user will be able to send it to view the activity remotely using a mobile device.

While a very cool sci-fi innovation brought to life, Astro’s real-world usability is questionable. There are much faster methods to investigate strange activity in your home remotely, such as smart home camera systems that connect to your mobile devices through apps.

However these methods are more expensive, and while the price point of Amazon Astro has yet to be revealed, it will likely be cheaper than the installation of a full smart home camera system. It boils down to if people like the gimmick of having their house robot check if the front door is still closed or not.

Amazon says that Astro could also be useful to help remotely check on elderly relatives or deliver reminders for certain activities.

A Threat to Privacy?

Another concern that has been raised by digital watchdog groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation, is that hackers may be able to potentially use Astro to see into people’s homes.

“There are some scenarios in which (Astro) could be useful; there are some scenarios in which a surveillance camera on your house could be useful, too,” Matthew Guariglia, a policy analyst at Electronic Frontier Foundation said.

“But the problem is that you need to know that it comes off with a trade-off of vulnerability,” he added.

Limp, who oversees Amazon’s devices and services, has said that the company has foreseen this and is implementing features that will guard against such abuses. He said that users will be able to shut down Astro’s cameras and microphones whenever they wish. Another feature to safeguard users is a set of messages and warnings that will go off in Astro’s display when someone is trying to gain access to its cameras remotely.

“If somebody hacked your account or something, and that could be a bad person obviously, we want to notify anyone that might be at home,” Limp said.

By Luis Monzon
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