Amazon gives Alexa a camera, wheels and calls it a robot... but is it worth buying?

Amazon Astro robot
(Image credit: Amazon)

Do you love Alexa? Then what if it could be released from its smart speaker prison, and given a wheeled body of its own to roam around in? 

How about adding a couple of cameras so it could not just hear things, but see them too? Plus a touchscreen display for good measure, along with some facial recognition software, so it could literally follow you around the house?

Clearly someone at Amazon has been having such thoughts. Because they've just launched Astro, a home robot that does all these things and more. With a cute look clearly inspired by Disney's Wall-E, Astro will initially go on sale for $999.99 to US customers on an invite-only basis.

As shown in the video below, Astro can find its way around your home and go where you need it to. When you don't, it will hang out close by, at the ready. Its AI learning algorithms will allow it to recognise objects, people and pets, to help it avoid bumping into things and getting stuck (in a way that anyone with a robot vacuum cleaner will be very familiar with).

So far, so great. But what can it actually do? 

As Amazon's blurb begins, "Astro can follow you with entertainment or find you to deliver calls, messages, timers, alarms, or reminders." So essentially... you're getting an Alexa-powered tablet you don't have to carry, but which follows you instead. 

Admittedly, it also looks very cool. But let's be clear: this is not the robot that will fetch you a beer, do the washing up, and chat to you about your day that you find in the world of sci-fi.

That said, there are a number of specific things Astro can uniquely offer. For instance, it comes with a detachable cup holder and can carry other items (sold separately) like a Ziploc container, the OMRON blood pressure monitor, and a Furbo Dog Camera, which tosses treats to your pet. 

In other words, while it can't fetch you a beer itself, a family member can place a beer in its container and then send it over to you. Which, depending on the size of your house, sounds either very lazy or very cool.

Amazon Alexa Astro security uses

More significantly, though, Astro's ability to roam the house and check on things, using its 5MP bezel camera and machine-learning technology, means it can potentially enhance your security setup.

(Image credit: Amazon)

So for example, Astro can link up with Amazon's Ring Protect Pro service, and send an alert when it detects an unrecognized person, hears certain sounds like glass breaking, or detects smoke or carbon monoxide.

You can get it to remotely check on different rooms, and show you a live view of what's going on. A second camera, a 1080p periscope camera with 132° diagonal field of view, extends upwards and downwards 42 inches, so you can move into position for the best view. Astro also allows two-way talking, and has a siren. 

It all sounds like a lot of fun, and potentially useful as a security device, although the privacy implications are mind-bending, and how well its facial recognition tech will actually work remains to be seen. (According to anonymous sources quoted in a Vice article, not very well). Plus it doesn't seem to be able to climb stairs, making it of limited use to anyone not living in a bungalow.

(Image credit: Amazon)

Still, the idea of owning something that even looks like a robot will probably be enough to tempt early adopters, particularly those who like hacking new tech and gearing it to their specific purposes.

If that includes you, then as long as you're in the US, you can sign up for the invite only pre-order here.

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Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.