Amazon's new Alexa-based robot is available for preorder. Here's what we've discovered about how Astro works, when you can get it and what it means for privacy.
Astro, the new autonomous household robot, was a big surprise at Amazon's product launch event on Tuesday. Since Astro rolled out onstage -- effectively stealing the spotlight -- we've discovered that the Alexa-powered bot has a lot going on behind its big, blinking Wall-E eyes. And we're not just talking about its beatboxing talent (yes, it does that too).
Amazon VP of Devices Charlie Tritschler told CNET that the company has big plans for the little bot (read the full interview here). Astro could finally be the home robot that succeeds, according to Tritschler, and could pave the way for uses outside the home, perhaps in educational settings. Tritschler also talked about future versions of Astro, versions that can climb stairs and grab items.
That's right. Amazon is likely already thinking about Astro 2.
Here's everything we know so far about Amazon's new robot assistant. We'll walk you through what we've learned about prices (the $999 starting price won't last forever), technical specifications, capabilities and limitations, potential privacy concerns and more.
We'll continue to update this story as we get more information.
Astro is a Day 1 Edition product, meaning it's available via invite-only preorder. You can sign up for an invitation to preorder the Amazon Astro today. The household robot will initially cost $1,000. Upon broader release, Astro's price will go up to $1,450.
Amazon says it will let you return Astro for free. Amazon's return policy for Astro lines up with its other products and devices: You can return Astro "for any reason in new and unused condition" without having to pay shipping fees.
You'll start your return by going to your list of Amazon orders in your account and then selecting the return method. If you're offered more than one choice, expand the list to see which is most convenient for you (for example, dropping it off at an Amazon or Whole Foods store, Kohl's or a UPS retail store). Amazon's website will walk you through the rest of the process, such as printing out a return label if necessary.
No. Amazon will only ship Astro to addresses in the 50 US states.
So far, Amazon has only said that Astro will be available later this year. We'll update this story when we have a clearer date. Presumably, Astro will ship to preorder customers before Jan. 1, 2022.
A lot. Amazon said Astro, which is like Alexa on wheels, can monitor home security, keep tabs on your elderly and young family members and generally be at your beck and call for all your Alexa-command needs.
The bot is designed to learn your habits to make it more useful in your everyday life. For example, Astro uses tech called Intelligent Motion to navigate your home and avoid furniture and pets, and it's supposed to learn from how you use it. This means when you're not using Astro, it'll hang out in a low-traffic area close by and charge.
The robot can follow you around playing podcasts and music, as well as check on others in the house remotely. Astro can also make calls, send messages and set timers, alarms and reminders. The robot even has a little detachable storage bin so you can use it to carry and deliver items, like a bottle of water, to specific people in the home by creating a visual ID. You can video-chat via Astro, too, and the robot will move with you, keeping you in the frame, like the Facebook portal.
Astro can also integrate with Ring's security alarm system (more below), capture video clips of events and send them to Ring's cloud. Read on to learn everything Astro can do with a subscription to Ring Protect Pro and Alexa Guard.
The robot can detect sounds like breaking glass or smoke detectors and alert you. If you think you forgot to turn off the stove, you can send Astro into the kitchen to check.
In terms of remote elderly care, Astro can reportedly recognize faces, look for an elderly person and provide status notifications for caregivers. Plus, with future Alexa Together integration, you'd be able to set up routines for medication reminders, write shopping lists, get activity alerts or check blood pressure.
We're not entirely sure how the app will work yet, but Amazon told CNET in an email that it's a critical part of the Astro experience. The app -- which for the foreseeable future is mobile only -- gives you access to Astro's map, live view and out of bounds zones. The app is also where you'll receive Smart Alert notifications and remotely navigate your house to specific rooms or preset view points.
Images of the app on Astro's commerce page show different tabs for Rooms, Viewpoints and People, as well as options to stop view, transition between locations, access the camera and talking functions, as well as sound a siren. You can list places in your home like the dining room, kitchen, office, foyer and more. Images on the commerce page show an option to open a map, access a timeline, start Live view, adjust settings and use voice commands. The app also lets you restrict where Astro can travel in your home and see Wi-Fi signal heat maps in your home.
In addition, the app must be paired with the robot to access live view, according to Amazon, but there will be a delay before it connects to show you what mobile device is in control of the robot.
Hours after Astro's introduction, Vice reported leaked documents about Astro's potential flaws, as well as its heavy reliance on facial recognition and user behavior. CNET has requested comment from Amazon about this report.
On its product page for Astro, Amazon says you can turn off mics, cameras and motion just by pressing a button. Amazon told CNET that when you press the "off" button, the power to Astro's microphones, bezel, periscope cameras, and depth-sensors is disconnected, preventing Astro from moving and capturing audio or video. In addition, a dedicated red light is illuminated, according to Astro's privacy page.
If Astro is recording, the indicator light on Astro's periscope camera will be green -- indicating video streaming in progress, according to Astro's privacy page.
Astro uses local processing features like visual ID, Amazon told CNET. Enrolling in visual ID is optional and is stored on the device. You can delete a visual ID at any time through the app, and if your face isn't recognized for 18 months, Amazon will automatically delete the visual ID, according to the privacy page In addition, data that is sent to the cloud is encrypted in transit and stored in Amazon's servers.
You can also use the Astro app to set up "out-of-bounds zones" through the map that Astro isn't allowed to go into. You can use (or schedule) a Do Not Disturb mode to stop Astro from hanging out near you as well. You can also delete and set up maps in the app. Command phrases like "Astro, stop" are also locally processed, according to Amazon. There's also a night mode option to keep Astro on its charger until you summon it.
Amazon says home monitoring features and Drop-In require opt-in on the device. Astro Hangouts are automatically on, according to Amazon, but you can opt out.
If you activate a six-month free trial of Ring Protect Pro, Astro will patrol your house with its periscope camera, investigate any unusual activity and save videos in Ring's cloud storage for 60 days. If Astro detects something amiss -- an unidentified person or sound -- it'll alert you remotely.
Without a Ring Protect Pro subscription, Astro only allows a live view from the app, remote control of the robot and two-way talking.
If you return or deregister your Astro, you'll lose your trial to Ring Protect Pro, and likely the access that goes with it.
Here's what Amazon says if you're an existing subscriber:
If you are an existing monthly or yearly Ring Protect Plan subscriber, your subscription will continue to automatically renew. If you assign your Astro to the same location as your existing Ring Protect Plan, after your trial period begins, you will automatically receive a credit to your Ring account equivalent to 6 months of payments (excluding taxes), prorated based on your current subscription. If you are currently in a free trial period for a Ring Protect Plan at the same location where you assign your Astro, your existing trial will terminate in favor of your 6-month trial and you will not receive a credit.
Using Alexa Guard with Astro means you'll get smart alerts for smoke detectors, the sound of breaking glass, dogs barking and motion outside. It can turn smart lights on and off, offers hands-free emergency help line calling and can play a siren when activity is detected indoors.
Without an Alexa Guard subscription, Astro can still send smart alerts about smoke or carbon monoxide detection or glass breaking, and it can operate your smart lights.
As with Ring Protect Pro, if you return or deregister your Astro, you'll lose your Alexa Guard trial and features. Here's Amazon's policy on Alexa Guard subscriptions:
For existing Alexa Guard Plus subscribers, your subscription will be canceled when you activate your Ring Protect Pro trial. After the 6-month trial period, you can subscribe to Ring Protect Pro or Alexa Guard Plus to maintain access to Guard Plus benefits.
You can suspend your Ring Protect Pro trial benefits by de-linking your Amazon and Ring accounts on Ring.com or using the Ring app. If you cancel your Ring Protect Pro subscription during the 6-month trial period, a refund will not be issued.
There are some things astro can't do. Astro reportedly can't climb stairs or go outside, for example. And Amazon says that Astro can't send smart alerts for activity sounds while it's investigating, patrolling or otherwise in motion. We'll update this list as we learn more.