“Alexa, ask Astro to come in here.”
I’m sitting on a couch in a simulated living room at Amazon’s Lab126 product R&D lab in Sunnyvale, California. Amazon VP of products Charlie Tritschler, who has been describing the company’s new home robot to me, is summoning the bot from another room, where it’s been biding its time before making an appearance.
The squat, gleaming white bot rolls through the door and into the area where Tritschler, principal product manager Anthony Robson, and I have been discussing it. After negotiating a carpet, it whirs in my direction. But it eventually uses facial recognition to spot Tritschler, who’s in a nearby armchair, and wheels up to him.
Code-named “Vesta,” Astro has been in the works for four years—and has been the subject of rumor and speculation for almost as long. The robot has been described as “Alexa on wheels,” which is accurate as far as it goes: It uses Amazon’s voice assistant for control and packs features—from video calls to music playback—available on other Alexa-powered devices. With its ability to monitor homes for intruders and other risks to safety, Astro is also an extension of Amazon’s security ecosystem, most of which otherwise involves products sold under its Ring brand.
But this product’s implications go far beyond those of a new Echo Show smart screen or Ring video doorbell. Rosie, the Jetsons’s robotic maid, has been a symbol of life in the future for almost 60 years; attempts to market household robots go back at least to the 1980s. Yet aside from iRobot’s Roomba and other floor-cleaning bots, useful home robots feel no closer to reality than flying cars and personal jetpacks. With Astro, Amazon aims to change that.
However, the company isn’t claiming that its robot is ready for the masses just yet. Astro will debut as a Day 1 Edition, part of an invitation-only program that will allow a select group of people to buy it for $1,000, marked down from the official price of $1,500. You can request an invite starting today, and Amazon plans to begin accepting participants and shipping Astros later this year. Early adopters will help shape the product’s future: “Our goal is to get feedback…