Amazon’s New Robot Could Give Some People the Creeps

Sentry or spy?

Key Takeaways

  • Amazon’s new Astro robot worries some observers who say it could be another digital foothold into your home. 
  • The Astro is available via invite-only preorder and initially will cost $1,000. 
  • The Astro could also be a data security risk for users.
Someone interacting with the Astro robot from Amazon.

Amazon

Amazon's new Astro robot is creeping out some observers, who say it's a potential invasion of privacy. 

The Astro is a Day 1 Edition product, meaning it's available via invite-only preorder, and will initially cost $1,000. It's cute-looking and uses voice-recognition software, cameras, artificial intelligence, mapping technology, and voice- and face-recognition sensors as it zooms from room to room, capturing live video and learning your habits. The convenience comes with a catch, though. 

"Astro is basically an Alexa with eyes and wheels," tech expert Scott Swigart told Lifewire in an email interview. "Like most modern technology, it asks users to sacrifice privacy for convenience."

Rolling Companion

Amazon says the Astro is meant to do everything from home monitoring to help you keep in touch with friends and family. 

"Astro uses its digital eyes on its rotating screen, body movements, and expressive tones to communicate," Charlie Tritschler, the vice president of products at Amazon, wrote on the company's website.

"Its personality is also helpful—for example, it hangs out in places where it can be the most useful. For me, that's in the kitchen, where I'm typically asking for a recipe or sending Astro to tell my family that dinner is ready."

The Astro needs a subscription to Amazon's Ring Protect Pro service to carry out its autonomous patrols and "intelligent investigation" of suspicious activity. Another subscription service, Alexa Guard, uses Astro to detect sounds of smoke, carbon monoxide alarms, or glass breaking and warn users. The robot even will send notifications to a smartphone if it detects something unusual via the official app. 

If you don't subscribe to the Ring and Guard services, the Astro loses much of its autonomy.  However, you can still manually control the robot through the mobile app and live stream footage from the included cameras. Astro also has a periscope that expands its field of view to see over obstacles.

The robot can assist users' elderly relatives and loved ones, thanks to the new Alexa Together feature. Owners can use Alexa Together to set schedules and alerts for caregivers or use Astro to check in on relatives. It also gives 24/7 access to Urgent Response, a professional emergency helpline.

But the Astro's price tag might be high for what it does. 

"In the end, even the best consumer protection doesn't seem to do enough to justify Astro's $999 price tag," Swigart said. "So, at least in its first iteration, it's unlikely to be stalking most house guests any time soon."

 "Even if it works as designed, Astro's purported Sentry mode is… creepy—following and recording people that it doesn't recognize."

Robo Invader?

The Astro also could be a rolling invasion of privacy. 

"Even if it works as designed, Astro's purported Sentry mode is… creepy—following and recording people that it doesn't recognize," Swigart said.

"I, for one, can't really think of many scenarios where I've desired in-home surveillance, but I'm sure dysfunctional family dynamics could put it to good use."

Astro is designed to accumulate information about its homeowners, floor mapping, and objects, software engineer Perry Zheng told Lifewire in an email interview. The bot "can make a pool of extensive data to get the best spot for scanning. When it doesn't recognize a person, it goes into 'Sentry' mode and follows the person around." 

"Astro can also be a concern as hackers can use it for its camera and mic, which can prove to be a major concern for Amazon," Zheng added. 

The Amazon Astro robot patrolling a home.

Amazon

Swigart also says that the Astro could be a data security risk for users. "If it ends up getting hacked, you've got a mobile stranger in your house," he added. 

Not everyone agrees that the Astro is pushing any privacy boundaries. 

"If you're worried about a robot mapping out your house—how many of you have a Roomba?" cybersecurity expert Steve Tcherchian told Lifewire in an email interview. "We all already have webcams all over of house, so our private lives are already streaming to the cloud. We're all dependent on Amazon for everything. Alexa anyone? Bezos even knows what color socks you wear."

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