Amazon’s Astro Can’t Even Get You Beer
Amazon revealed a new robot today with the face of an Echo Show, the sensor-packed body of Panera Bread delivery bot, and a pair of cupholders for a trunk. The moment it was announced, people gathered around for a reason for its existence beyond “mobile camera with a cute face” and “potentially invasive surveillance drone.” Most appeared to settle for a robot that can fetch beer.
The $1,000 Astro has a wide variety of capabilities beyond home surveillance, it’s not gonna be getting you anything. “Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity,” a source who claimed to work on the project told Vice. Another expert told Vice “it’s a disaster that’s not ready for release.” A robot more prone to throwing itself into the void than making expected functions is not gonna be grasping that Heineken from the fridge for you.
Google and Snapchat have both massively invested in building a way for computers to understand the real world without guideposts like bar codes. Amazon has not. It might be the maker of Rekognition, a facial recognition service, but its Ring ecosystem only got the capacity to recognize packages.
But the most prominent problem isn’t the reports that it sucks, or the failure to show it can differentiate between the different contents of your fridge. The actual problem is the robot has no arms!
There is no way for it to open a fridge or even a cooler. It can’t even open a door. It surely cannot reach into a crowded fridge and pick out a cold one. I fear people assume it’s got some Doc Ock arms tucked away behind its face or are hoping those two cupholders rise out of the robot to open the fridge via suction. They’ve seen the cupholders and thought there is a way to get things into them that don’t involve someone in the other room helping out.
Currently, there seem to be no plans to make it a pair of grabbers — or even a single appendage. The payload area the cupholders occupy does have a USB-C port, though!