Alexa on wheels, creepier than you thought


Amazon’s announcement of an ‘Alexa with wheels’ household robot has been met with a wave of ridicule and questions about the privacy concerns this technology presents.

The Astro is Amazon’s first household robot and it can be remote-controlled by its owner when they are not at home to perform tasks or check on a pet or family members. The device can also detect – and alert owners to – unusual activity. 

Amazon is selling Astro as more than just a robot, however, giving it a multitude of expressions to give the impression of having personality. During the new tech’s unveiling, an Astro was asked to beatbox and it went through a range of ‘expressions’ as it played beatboxing sounds. 

The device itself has a large screen that acts as its ‘face’, atop three wheels. It can be used to video chat, move objects, play music, and more. 

Addressing obvious security concerns, Amazon insists the ‘Alexa on wheels’ can be programmed to stay out of certain areas and can also be set to a ‘do not disturb’ mode. 

With an initial retail price of approximately $1,000, Amazon believes the device will be in every home in five to 10 years. 

“We talked about AI and processors getting more powerful, and inevitably robotics came up. And one of the discussions was: ‘Does anyone here in this meeting think that in 5-10 years there won’t be more robots in your home?’” Amazon’s vice president of product, Charlie Tritschler, told CNBC. “And everyone was like, ‘Well, yeah, of course.’ It’s like, ‘Well, then, let’s get going.’”

An Astro in every home within 10 years doesn’t seem too likely though judging by the reactions on social media to the tech announcement, with many mocking the odd-looking tech, and others bringing up privacy concerns activists have long argued about previous products utilizing the same technology, such as Amazon’s Alexa. 

“We’re screwed,” one Twitter user wrote in reaction to the Amazon news.

“Hidden/roving cameras are the LAST thing people will welcome,” technology writer Geoffrey A. Fowler added

Amazon’s Astro will at first be sold in an invitation-only fashion, with would-be users asked to sign up and then some being invited for the chance to try the device before it goes to the mass market. The product does not yet have a specific launch date, but is expected to drop sometime before the end of the year. 

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