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Astro, a Robot Assistant From Amazon Has Some Privacy Concerns

Amazon Astro3
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More and more people are getting used to the digital age and accept tech devices and tools as part of their everyday lives. At the same time, people are aware that robots, which come in different forms, help individuals, organizations, and industries improve work processes and human lives. 

In the past, people only saw robots in science fiction films, but today, robots can be seen almost everywhere, and some of them are now in many homes, performing different functions. 

Home robots

It’s been several years since talks about helpful robots for the home were mentioned and featured in movies, but the development progress for this type of robot was a bit slow. The finished products may look small and cute, but so many things go into the production of robots, plus the fact that the funding for such projects is on the high side. 

But recently, Amazon introduced Astro, a small robot for the home, like Alexa, a virtual assistant developed by Amazon. Their difference is that Astro has wheels.

Astro

Astro can do most of the things you can ask from Amazon Echo. This smart speaker responds to voice commands, like taking photos, dictating a message, making phone calls, listening to music, setting reminders, and answering questions. Astro can go around the house and follow a command, such as following the user who walks around while talking on the phone, doing podcasts, or playing music. The home robot can also go on sleep mode until activated.

Astro looks a bit like Roomba, a robot vacuum cleaner, with a tablet stuck on its top. Big cartoon eyes on the tablet’s screen can look sad, happy, wink, or blink. The eyes close while the robot is charging.

The user can input a map of the house to help the robot navigate. It has several sensors that prevent it from bumping into corners and other obstacles. It can likewise be programmed to avoid entering specific rooms or going out of the house. A new vision system can be trained to recognize other people, and users can also set it to send an alarm when there is a stranger.

In short, Astro performs as a miniature butler when the user is at home. It can locate a specific person if a phone call comes in. It can act as a reminder, and with its cargo bin, deliver items. Astro, whose dimensions are 16.7 x 9.8 x 17.3 inches, will look like a cute toy compared to Walker X, the 4.75-foot humanoid service robot China’s UBTECH will release in a few years.

Astro 3
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From butler to security system

If the homeowner or the family is not at home, Astro can be set to be the home’s automatic mobile security system. Astro can watch and listen for anyone or anything that should not be in or around the house. The robot can detect noises, such as alarm sounding or glass breaking. When something is suspicious, the robot sends an alert to its user’s phone, and like a CCTV camera system, it can take videos and save them.

It is possible to remotely control Astro from a user’s phone, check if electrical devices are left plugged into power outlets or check other things in the house. In addition, Astro has a periscope HD camera attached to its head that can give the user a better view of the surroundings from a maximum height of 42 inches or 107 centimeters.

Security issues

While Astro can be an ideal butler, privacy and security experts are wary of the product. They say that its data-gathering capabilities are unknown. They think Amazon can gather additional information about the user/s. And if it is connected to the police through Amazon’s Ring (Always Home Cam), it will provide them with a way to view what’s inside your home. Likewise, the robot can be a target of hackers. If something happens, the police can serve a warrant to Amazon and view the data from Astro’s storage system.  

A tech news site called Motherboard analyzed the internal documents regarding the Astro project and reported that the home robot is a ”privacy nightmare and not ready for release”.

There have been some security issues with some of Amazon’s IoT products, which make privacy and security experts wary of Astro.

Astro is available only to U.S. customers by invitation, with a pre-order price tag of US$999.99. Amazon says the product will be available commercially in the latter part of the year and sell for $1,449.99.

Given the favorable features and the security issues, it is up to the customer to decide whether they want to buy the product despite the risks.