Amazon Unveils Home Robot Astro

Amazon has unveiled its latest piece of tech for the home, the robot “Astro.” For now, it’s limited to patrolling and can’t do any physical tasks.

Astro is a little wheeled robot with a range of sensors and a camera. It can navigate houses and take note of what it finds along the way. The robot can either be set to patrol following a path or steered manually via a mobile device.

One of its uses could be to check on people’s homes, and perhaps pets, when they’re away. The robot will also have facial recognition capabilities. In theory, this will allow it to identify members of the home and spot intruders.

While this sounds useful, Vice has discovered that the robot is far from perfect.

Apparently, its components are quite fragile and prone to breaking. Additionally, the robot tends to fall down the stairs whenever it encounters them.

What’s worse, there are significant privacy concerns.

In order to program the bot, people must submit their facial and voice prints. Although this could potentially help it identify intruders, it also gives Amazon access to sensitive biometric data.

Premium Surveillance

The Verge had more to say about the privacy implications. As it points out, Astro isn’t simply a surveillance device. It’s part of a growing trend of tech companies entrenching surveillance into daily life.

Smartphones already do this, with apps collecting all types of data, noting your location and preferences.

Astro is just the next logical extension of that.

While services like background checks and people search sites collect personal data, it is, by far and large. information that is publicly available. And while phone users can opt-out of data collection or use a VPN to mask their activity, Astro poses different security threats.

A robot with a direct line to Amazon can feed it all types of information. Perhaps it’ll scan the furniture so Amazon can send better-targeted ads. Maybe it’ll figure out what people aren’t buying from Amazon and start offering attractive discounts on those things on site.

As uncomfortable as that may sound to some, others might welcome such an “optimized” experience. After all, the global retailer does have 310 million active users. Plus, Astro isn’t forced on anyone.

In fact, people have to apply for an invitation to purchase it for $999.

All that said, it appears the kinks are still being worked out. Since Astro is still an “exclusive” item, only time will tell whether it will become a mainstay like Alexa.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Garan is a writer interested in how tech reshapes the environment, and how the environment reshapes tech. You'll usually find him inoculating against future shock and arguing with bots.

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