In five to 10 years, Amazon's Dave Limp said on Tuesday, you'll probably have a robot in your house. Amazon, of course, has just the robot: Astro, a new rolling bot that is designed as both Alexa on wheels and a roving, Ring-powered security system.
Amazon's annual product announcements are usually a grab bag of "maybe this'll be something!" kinds of devices. Alexa in … everything. But Astro, a new Alexa-enabled home robot, is something different. The company has been working on it for years, and Limp said he's been living with an early version of Astro for about a year. For now, Astro is part of Amazon's Day 1 program, which is a sort of public R&D group inside the company, but it'll be available for purchase for $1,000 later this year.
Many companies have tried to build these types of robots over the years, from Sony's Aibo to SoftBank's Pepper, but none has cracked the formula. And it's still not exactly clear what they're for; Limp had his Astro beatbox and talked about helping older people live more independently, while Elon Musk framed the Tesla Bot as a tool for carrying groceries and other simple household tasks. And Amazon built Astro more like a cute rolling pet with big round eyes, whereas the Tesla Bot looks more like a prop out of a "Terminator" movie.
Even Limp and other Amazon executives acknowledged that there's a lot of work left to do, and a lot of questions to be answered. But the trend in the industry is clear: Amazon and Tesla are thoroughly mainstream tech companies, and both are convinced that the time has come for an in-home robot to be a regular part of daily life. As camera tech, computer vision and machine learning all continue to get better, robots can do more all the time. "This is our first robot, not our last robot," Amazon's Lab126 president, Gregg Zehr, said during the launch event. Whether people will welcome their new robot pets/friends/overlords, though, is another question entirely.