In brief: Amazon has just introduced its new Astro home robot, and it's already being targeted by controversy. According to leaked documents and developers who helped build Astro, the robot still has major flaws that shouldn't be well-accepted by those who spend $1,000 or more to buy one.
When designing Astro, it's clear that Amazon was aiming for an R2D2/C3-PO friendly look for its home surveillance/Alexa robot. However, just because it looks friendly doesn't mean it is, at least according to leaked development documents and devs that worked on the project.
The leaked documents, which refer to Astro by Vesta (codename), show how the device works and behaves based on external inputs. In summary, Astro "slowly and intelligently patrols the home when unfamiliar person are around, moving from scan point to scan point looking and listening for unusual activity."
When Astro's sentry mode and stranger investigation setting are enabled, and the robot detects something unusual like a sound or an unrecognized person, it will further investigate. For the next 30 seconds, Astro will try to identify the person, and if it doesn't, it will follow the user, recording video and audio until someone disables sentry mode.
Astro's behavior description alone has nothing wrong with it. Nonetheless, developers claim the robot "is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity." Moreover, developers also claimed the facial recognition is flawed, and the robot seems fragile, which shouldn't, considering it will certainly be kicked by kids, distracted adults and even pets.
Another developer who worked on the Astro project mentioned the issues that the robot brings in terms of privacy, calling it a "privacy nightmare" and "a disaster that's not ready for release."
Soon after the documents and developers' reports came to light, Kristy Schmidt, senior PR manager for devices and services at Amazon, issued a statement. "These characterizations of Astro's performance, mast, and safety systems are simply inaccurate," said Schmidt.
"Astro went through rigorous testing on both quality and safety, including tens of thousands of hours of testing with beta participants. This includes comprehensive testing on Astro's advanced safety system, which is designed to avoid objects, detect stairs, and stop the device where and when necessary."
As a security robot, it makes some sense that it will be constantly monitoring and watching users in a household. But like in any other device that gathers user information, it all depends how it will be treated and who'll have access to it. Amazon usually ensures the privacy and security of any data gathered by its products. However, the tech giant already had its fair share of privacy issues with its products, including Ring, Alexa and Echo speakers.
Some of what the developers said would also justify why Amazon only allows you to buy an Amazon Astro after filling out a survey, which contains a question asking about the type of stairs in your home. Maybe Amazon is nitpicking users to ensure accidents won't happen, expecting that with further development, the robot won't try to commit suicide on certain stairs.