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Amazon updates Astro home robot

Market news |
By Rich Pell


Technology company Amazon has announced enhancements to its Astro household robot. Introduced last year as an invitation-only product, Astro is designed as a home monitoring robot that “does everything Amazon’s smart home products and services already do — only on wheels.”

“Creating Astro required years of innovation and solving some very difficult technology challenges,” says Ken Washington, Vice President, Amazon Devices and Services. “And since we started shipping, it’s been incredible to see how customers have reacted to the device, which combines autonomous navigation, intelligent motion, and a delightful personality into a robot for your home.”

Now the company has announced new features for the device, including taking the device beyond the home.

“While we’ve been learning about how customers wanted to use Astro in homes, we’ve also been exploring how the device might be helpful for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs),” says Washington. “With Astro’s intelligent, autonomous mobility and innovative monitoring capabilities, we believe it can be just as helpful in SMBs as it is in homes—so we’ve been working with our colleagues at Ring to explore what that might look like.”

According to the company, thousands of new businesses are turning to Ring for security devices and services each week, and last year Ring announced Virtual Security Guard – a service that lets users add live motion event monitoring to their security cameras. In the coming months, says the company, it will be bringing Astro and Virtual Security Guard together to offer SMBs a new way to protect their business.

If a business has Virtual Security Guard and the armed Ring Alarm goes off, Astro will autonomously and proactively go investigate what happened, while professional monitoring agents use Astro’s cameras to observe what’s happening in real time. If something is wrong, agents can take appropriate action, like calling dispatch to send the right authorities, or warning off an intruder through two-way talk.

In addition to expanding Astro’s abilities to small and medium-sized businesses, the company says it is also exploring more capabilities for Astro in the home. One common theme that users have shared with the company is how quickly Astro is accepted as another member of their family; but the feedback also shows that users would like Astro to be able to interact with other important family members: pets.

A new pet detection feature will enable Astro to help users keep an eye on their pet, whether they are on the move or just in another part of the house. While on patrol, if Astro does see a pet, it will send a short video clip of what they’re doing, so users can decide if they want to start a Live View to say hi to them, or simply enjoy watching what they’re up to.

Another new feature being introduced is an multimodal artificial intelligence (AI) capability that gives Astro the ability to learn from users about things in their home that they want it to learn about – and better notify users if something isn’t right. With this capability, Astro will be able to learn what something is through two modalities: by looking at the object in question, while listening to a user describe it.

“To start,” says Washington, “we’re focusing on windows and doors. Astro can learn things like which door is the front door, which window is the kitchen window, and their location and current state—like whether it’s open or closed. While patrolling, Astro will be able to proactively alert you if it sees a door or window is in the wrong state, such as if the bathroom door leading to your cat’s litter box was mistakenly closed.”

Astro does this by sending a picture from its camera, and users will also see text stating which door or window is open. Users can also ask Astro to go check on a specific door or window, in which case Astro will go take a picture. Astro will then either return to the user with a message about the state of the door or window, or send an alert through the Astro app. If Astro isn’t sure if a door or window is open or closed, it will ask to validate whether it gets the state right, and Astro will use the learning to make future checks are more accurate.

This new feature, says the company, utilizes advancements in multimodal AI understanding, and was developed in partnership with colleagues in the Alexa AI team. In the future the company expects to give Astro the ability to learn about more aspects of the home, like appliances and pet food bowls.

Finally, the company is announcing a a new software development kit (SDK) to give the developer community the tools to create new experiences for Astro. In addition, the company says that it will begin working with three of the world’s leading robotics schools later this year — the Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan — to put an early form of the SDK into their students’ hands.

“We’ve learned a lot from Astro’s first year, from how it functions in the real world to how customers are finding it most useful in their daily routines,” says Washington. “Still, one thing is clear: We’re just getting started with Astro. We’re optimistic about its future and look forward to making it smarter, and more useful, on your behalf.”


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