This is the worst possible version of Skynet.
Amazon announced a product called Astro on Tuesday, which is either futuristic or deeply concerning depending on your tastes. Astro is essentially a little wheeled robot with a camera and a tablet on it. It can scoot around the house at speeds of up to one meter per second and supposedly has failsafes in place to stop it from falling down stairs or doing other things that might put it in danger. The tablet face even shows expressive eyes to give the creepy Amazon robot patrolling your home some personality.
Oh, and it’s pricey: $1,499.99 when it becomes available to the masses, and $999.99 for those who make it into the invite-only Day 1 program that will ship out to select customers later this year.
There are some theoretical security benefits to having Astro in your home. It can patrol the house when nobody is home and alert its owner if an unrecognized person enters the house. Amazon also gave it ways to recognize the sounds of smoke alarms going off or glass breaking. It can also be used to check in on those who need home care, like the elderly, or to simply follow you around and play a podcast as you do chores.
There are obvious reasons to be wary of Astro from a privacy perspective so Amazon did include some safeguards. You can set out of bounds areas in the home that Astro will not enter, and a button will turn the camera and microphones off. Unfortunately, Astro also can’t move while that button is enabled, so if you want to have the robot follow you around without being afraid of being seen or heard, you’re out of luck.
While there are some novel aspects of Astro, it also sort of feels like it’s designed to solve problems that don’t really exist while introducing new privacy issues. At that price, it’s easy to wonder if Astro will take off, too. One thing is for certain: It’ll never be as cool as the robot from Rocky IV.