Amazon launches a robot that can patrol homes
Eva Deschamps / September 29, 2021
Amazon will market a robot that can patrol homes, a science fiction device that the tech giant says has become a reality but also a potentially disturbing surveillance tool for critics.
The U.S. group on Tuesday introduced the Astro robot as a major breakthrough for safety-conscious consumers.
The wheeled, tablet-based device can map a home and respond to voice commands to point its camera into one room or another. It can also recognize faces, learn the habits of household members and remind everyone of their activities.
At 60 centimeters high and weighing less than 10 kilos, it will cost 1,000 dollars in the United States at first, then about 1,450 dollars.
When you're out of the house, you can use it to patrol your home, Dave Limp, an Amazon vice president, said in the promotional video released Tuesday.
Astro could also be used to check on elderly relatives.
This is science fiction come true, Suri Maddhula, who worked on the project, enthused in the Amazon video.
In some scenarios, a home surveillance camera like this can be useful, agreed Matthew Guariglia, an analyst with the online human rights NGO Electronic Frontier Foundation.
But he points out that the device could also be used as a Trojan horse by hackers or the police.
At a press conference, Dave Limp was reassuring. He said users could lock the robot's lenses and microphones, which make sounds and display messages if someone tries to hack it.
He also said that Amazon did not have access to Astro's remote cameras, and therefore could never give that access to the police or emergency services.
In 2019, the Seattle-based group had been criticized after revelations about employees listening to conversations recorded by its Alexa voice assistant to, according to Amazon, improve the system.
Amazon also markets under the brand Ring a range of products from doorbells with integrated camera to alarms for doors and windows. Controversial products because of their use in the past by law enforcement.