scorecardAmazon's new $1,000 home-patrolling robot is flawed and could fall down stairs, report says
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Amazon's new $1,000 home-patrolling robot is flawed and could fall down stairs, report says

Isobel Asher Hamilton   

Amazon's new $1,000 home-patrolling robot is flawed and could fall down stairs, report says
Tech2 min read
  • Amazon announced a new $1,000 home-patrolling robot called Astro.
  • Two people who worked on Astro told Vice they believe the robot's release is premature.
  • Amazon said the characterization of Astro in Vice's report is "simply inaccurate."

Amazon's new home robot Astro may not be ready for the real world, Vice reported, citing two unnamed sources who worked on the project.

Amazon announced Astro on Tuesday, touting it as a mobile device capable of navigating and monitoring your home and like other Amazon devices, setting timers and playing music.

The two Astro developers cited by Vice said the robot has some key flaws that make its release premature. Both said the device is likely to fall down stairs and that its facial recognition systems, which help determine whether someone in the house is a resident or stranger, are unreliable. An Amazon spokesperson told Insider the characterizations of Astro presented in Vice's article were "simply inaccurate."

"Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity," one source told Vice. "The person detection is unreliable at best, making the in-home security proposition laughable."

Astro owners must scan their faces so the robot recognizes them and it is programmed to investigate any perceived strangers in the home, as well as suspicious noises like alarms or breaking glass, according to an internal Amazon document viewed by Vice.

Vice's second source called Astro "a disaster that's not ready for release" and said it "will almost certainly fall down stairs in real world users' homes."

"In addition it's also (in my opinion) a privacy nightmare that is an indictment of our society and how we trade privacy for convenience," this person told Vice.

In a recent demo of the robot, Wall Street Journal reporter Nicole Nguyen said Astro failed to recognize a human in a room and "had trouble navigating the room's tight space."

"Right now, the bot may be a little rough around the edges," she reported.

An Amazon spokesperson disputed the claims in Vice's article.

"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," the spokesperson said.

Amazon spokeswoman Kirsty Schmidt also told Vice Amazon consulted with an external expert in algorithmic bias, Ayanna Howard, dean of the Ohio State University College of Engineering, to make sure Astro's facial recognition systems work fairly.

Amazon has faced intense scrutiny in the past over its facial recognition software Rekognition. Researchers Joy Buolamwini and Deborah Raji found Rekognition was worse at recognizing female faces and faces with darker skin tones in 2019.

Schmidt also told Vice: "we designed Astro to handle a lot of the data processing on the device, including the images and raw sensor data it processes as it moves around your home. This helps Astro respond quickly to its environment. In addition, your visual ID is stored on the device, and Astro uses on-device processing to recognize you."