Bloomberg reports that Amazon recently announced a new “home robot,” a Roomba-style robot with a monitor and cameras attached to it named Astro.
The robot boasts a number of features and according to Amazon’s advertisements, is the company’s answer to the sci-fi concept of a robot butler. Jeff Bezos at Blue Origin press event ( Joe Raedle /Getty) facial recognition tech (NICOLAS ASFOURI /Getty) However, the robot at its core is simply a camera on wheels that uses AI-powered tech to scan the faces of everyone in the home.
The robot cannot pick up items, navigates steps, and according to employees who worked on the robot, it is quite fragile and breaks regularly. Employees who worked on the Astro project told VICE News: “Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity.” Add to this, Astro costs $999 and many would wonder who exactly this device is meant for.
The Amazon bot uses its built-in cameras to scan the faces of people living in its home and can then be set to “patrol” the house at night, using its facial-recognition tech to detect intruders. Users can access the robot’s cameras from their phones, allowing them to view their own homes remotely like a mobile security camera. Of course, the robot has immediately caused concern amongst privacy experts who worry that allowing an Amazon bot to free roam about user’s homes may not be particularly secure. Amazon’s Alexa devices are already constantly listening in on users and have had their fair share of data breaches, as have the company’s Ring security cameras. James Vincent of the Verge writes: Personally, I think Astro is a half-baked concept and part of a dangerous trend of ubiquitous and unthinking surveillance. Although I accept the fact that many people want this sort of technology in their home, Amazon in particular has repeatedly shown a lack of care and honesty in how it develops this sort of tech. In the past, the company has sold racially biased facial recognition systems and hackable security cameras; it aggressively partners with law enforcement and uses scare tactics to push its products on consumers. Looking at this history, I’m not sure why anyone would trust Amazon to oversee these sorts of systems. But this is where Astro’s guise as a “home robot” becomes useful. For many people looking at Astro, it may appear to be just a novelty — indeed, it’s already drawn comparisons to robot “pets” like Aibo. But I think, like Facebook’s camera-equipped Ray-Ban glasses, the purpose of Astro is not to solve any particular problem but to neutralize the underlying concept: to get people used to having a camera that moves constantly around their home. Astro isn’t a home robot, it’s a camera on wheels, and that’s just what Amazon wants. Read more at Bloomberg here. Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address email@example.com.
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