Astro, Amazon’s new robot: we got our hands on it

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We got to see Amazon’s latest gadget early — it’s the long-rumored robot.

We spent about 50 minutes with Astro. Like robots of the past (some have fizzled out, others have gone extinct like Anki’s Vector and Cozmo robots), it focuses on peace of mind in the likes of home monitoring and checking in on household members, along with providing entertainment. At the heart of Astro is Amazon’s smart assistant and artificial intelligence chops — so yes, Alexa is onboard just with an “Astro” wake word so that you can ask for the weather, a question or to go to a specific room..

So let’s break down Astro, what it can do and what we think after seeing this unique robot up-close.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Amazon’s Astro is the first home robot from the company, and is being introduced after four years in development. Like previous Amazon firsts, it will be available as a Day 1 product. So if you’re interested you can sign up and you might receive an invite to order one. It’s also available for an introductory Day 1 price of $999 versus the normal $1,449 price. Either way, it’s not something you’ll drop cash on willy-nilly.

Astro is a relatively small robot that comes to below my knee (I’m 5’$2 4”) when sitting. Astro can move at up to two miles per hour when cruising through your home. This robot can not go up stairs, but can handle a switch from hardwood or tile to carpet with ease. In the front, right under Astro’s face, which is a 10-inch display, are two large drive wheels. The rear of Astro has a rotating tiny wheel, which helps it turn. It’s a thicker build in the front, that slims out a bit as you move to the end of the build.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Astro’s internals are all housed inside, but there’s a trunk of sorts in the back. It features a USB-C port for charging another device, this way you can leave your phone charging in the trunk. Out of the box, Amazon will ship Astro with a cupholder. So theoretically, you can place a drink in Astro and send it to someone. Amazon also informed us that third-parties will be crafting solutions for Astro’s trunk space. Furbo, the popular dog camera which lets you shoot treats out, will offer a model that fits in the back of this robot. Ziploc will make containers that perfectly fit, and Omron will create health care solutions like a blood pressure sensor. These accessories will cost extra though.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Like a car (Hyundai, BMW or Tesla) or robots before this, there are an abundance of sensors built into Astro. Ultrasonic sensors and cliff sensors help it stay on course and to detect obstacles. It also features depth cameras, which help it calculate the distance between objects, along with standard motion sensors. All of these come together to let Astro navigate safely around your house — it also prevents the robot from bumping into you.

Built into Astro’s 10-inch screen is a 5-megapixel camera — and like the Echo Show, it sits at the top bezel. Behind the display is an arm that holds it in place and it is kind of like the mast of a ship. Yes, the display can be moved electronically or physically by your hand — it can be tilted top down up to 60 degrees, and left to right by 45 degrees either way. The top of this center mast has a circular LED ring that will glow Blue when Astro is engaged, along with a button to disable the microphones and cameras. When you hit that, Astro becomes immobile.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Here’s the crazy thing though — this center mast can extend up 42-inches with a periscoping 12-megapixel camera on-top on it’s own. You won’t need to manually extend with your hand, as you can ask Astro to extend or control it via the companion app. This is enough to reach over the average counter height and lets you use Astro to get a view. It’s a pretty smooth operation to raise or lower the periscope as well. It will glow green with an LED indicator, when someone is actually viewing it and Astro’s screen will show which device is viewing it. The periscope needs to be fully lowered for Astro to move as well.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Pro tip — if you ask Astro to beatbox, not only will the robot dance around with the display moving, but the periscope will move in or out. You’ll also hear the side-firing 2” neodymium drivers along with a passive bass radiator which create sound for Astro.

Like a robot vacuum, Astro will charge on a dock that it can navigate to by itself when its power is low. Amazon says it will take about 45-minutes to fully charge Astro, and that you can watch a full length movie or take a 2-hour video call on device with ease.

So Astro is a home robot with a lot of technology inside — it’s also powered by a dedicated processor for safety features and a Qualcomm processor for all sorts of tasks. With the camera on the screen, Astro will begin to recognize faces through Visual ID when the feature is enabled. This will let Astro know who you are and other members in your family. It’s not as advanced as Apple’s Face ID as it only uses basic facial features to recognize a face. In our demo, it could recognize two Amazon employees even with face masks on. As Amazon announced as well, Visual ID will be arriving on select Echo Show devices.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Since Astro is technically not an Echo, it can’t use the same wake word that you’d normally use to get an Echo speaker or display attention. In this case, you say “Astro” and then make your request. But know that it’s tapping into the same smarts to get you an answer. Astro is basically a roving smart assistant that can follow you around or be ready at a moment’s notice. You can ask Astro for the weather, how it’s doing, to give you a daily briefing, control your smart home, tell a joke, play some music and even fire up a TV show or movie. The 10-inch screen was pretty vibrant in our brief hands-on and definitely on the same level as an Echo Show 10. It will also work to tilt and pan at a proper angle with whoever made the request.

Like a good Disney character, Astro has a bit of personality. Two eyes on the display are color matched to Alexa’s blue color and they’ll show gaze, move the direction Astro will turn and generally make this personality a bit more personal. Yes, it’s a robot but it can also read a room. If you call it over to ask a question and then forget about it, Astro might just leave and roam somewhere else. Amazon also informed us that Astro will check up on people as well.

So aside from Alexa on wheels, what can Astro do? Well it’s a home monitoring device in the same vein as Ring’s Always Home Cam — this just sticks to the ground, which frankly is less intimidating. When you first get Astro, you’ll set it up via the Astro app (available for Android and iOS) and physically need to pair your phone with the robot — it’s an extra step and an important privacy one. You’ll then give Astro a tour of your home, so that it can map the space and like a Roomba, you can name the rooms and even adjust barriers. You’ll also have the option to block off certain areas to prohibit Astro from navigating there.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Since Astro will know your home and have cameras, it will also integrate with Ring Protect Pro and show up as a camera in the Ring app at times. When engaged, Astro will patrol your home and can navigate to where an event might have been triggered. Video captured by Astro will be uploaded to the Ring’s storage for posterity and can be easily viewed. To a degree, Astro is also an add-on for your Ring system thanks to this.

Even if you don’t opt for the Ring integration, Astro will still just drive around your home and you can even take control or tell the robot exactly where to go. Once it has arrived at the destination, you can raise or lower the periscoping camera to get a better view. It could be an easy way to confirm you locked a window, didn’t leave the faucet running or really anything else. And not just anyone who has the Astro app and your sign-in can do this. You need to pair your phone with Astro to gain the ability to control.

So as you’re out or even while you’re asleep, Astro can roam around and be on the lookout. Like an Echo smart speaker or display, Astro supports Alexa Guard which can listen for sounds like a carbon monoxide or smoke alarm, along with glass breaking. If detected, it will send an alert to you.

That’s pretty handy, but a new area for Amazon is checking on those in a household and really an element of assistive care. Thanks to Visual ID, Astro will become familiar with those in your home and can routinely check on them. You can also ask Astro via a command in-person or via the app, to find someone. Once found, you could start a video call to check in and theoretically if it’s someone who needs to check their blood pressure or manage a health condition, Astro is smart enough to know to arrive on a schedule to find that person. It’s an interesting proposition and one that we’d need to test and see how it performs. But it’s also one that Amazon is bullish on and is rolling out Alexa Together — a $19 service that builds on top of Astro’s normal features and lets you connect with an urgent response service at any time. Core Amazon features like video calling and the drop-in functionality are not locked behind another plan on Astro.

Jacob Krol/CNN

So along with being able to monitor your home, automobile patrol it, integrate with Ring and check up on household members, Astro essentially delivers all of Alexa’s features and smarts on wheels. And if that’s not of interest or if the cost is not attainable — $999 is a lot — Amazon has a strong line of Echo devices right now.

  • Echo Show 10 ($249.99; Amazon’s flagship smart display is similar to Astro in that it features a 10-megapixel camera and a rotating screen, this way Alexa and the screen is always in your line of vision. It’s pretty neat and we’re thankful that processing is done on-device. It also gets considerably loud and is very fast at getting you information.
  • Echo Show 8 ($129.99; This 8-inch smart display is our go-to recommendation and for most people, the right Amazon-powered smart display to start with. You can ask Alexa for almost anything — including a movie or a TV show for playback — and the Show 8 can fill a room with ease.
  • Echo Show 5 ($84.99; The smallest Echo with a screen comes in at 5-inches and is best used on a nightstand or somewhere that a smaller screen won’t limit the functionality or use cases. And you can pick from a number of customizable clocks.

But to a degree we’re still stuck on Astro — the idea of a roaming smart device is an intriguing one and especially for home monitoring, it has a lot of nifty features. For someone with anxiety about forgetting to lock the door or maybe leaving a light on, Astro can help to ease those and let you get a visual confirmation. We also like the idea of the changes it could bring to checking in on a loved one or someone that could use reminders. Heck, we could benefit from that sometimes.

It’s also clear that Astro is a first generation robot and Amazon is using a targeted approach for this rollout. After four years in development, it launches today as a Day 1 product where you can request an invite. Amazon plans to start shipping later this year to those invited customers — who pay $999 — while at some point in the future, likely 2022, Astro should launch at $1,449.99. You’ll also get six-months of Ring Protect Pro included — that’s a $120 value.

Safe to say, we’ll be cool with inviting Astro in, but we’d want to test, spend time and ultimately review Amazon’s first home robot before recommending it to the masses.