Electronics

Amazon May Announce a Domestic Robot This Year

Several tech giants are trying to get artificial intelligence into your home by way of smart some speakers, but Amazon reportedly wants to take it a step further. Sources claim that Amazon is working on a home robot that will be unveiled later this year. The project is code named “Vesta” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, and it comes from the same top-flight hardware division (known as Lab126) that brought us the Echo speakers, Fire tablets, and the Fire Phone. Okay, that last one was a fluke, but Amazon has high hopes for home robotics.

The idea of a “domestic” robot should be familiar to everyone — they’ve existed in science-fiction for decades. The possibility you could have a robot around the house to help out is certainly tantalizing, but it’s unclear what Amazon’s robot would be able to do.

Engineers are reportedly working on Vesta prototypes with advanced computer vision similar to that in self-driving cars. The robots scan the environment and maneuver around obstacles to navigate your home. Sources who spoke to Bloomberg suggest the robot might be able to follow you around and act as a mobile Alexa-powered speaker, but that hardly seems like a sufficient reason to have a robot. An Echo Dot smart speaker costs less than $50. You can just plug more of those in around the house.

There are a few hints in Amazon’s recent engineering hires. The company has sought out experts in computer vision, sensor design, and general robotics. Amazon does have a separate Amazon Robotics subsidiary that had developed machines that can pick up and move objects, but sources say the project managed by Lab126 is developing a different technology. It’s a consumer angle instead of one to improve warehouse operations. 

No one has made a successful “general purpose” home robot, but there have been attempts going back years. There was a $1,500 robot called Hero in the 1980s that could roll around and speak via speech synthesis. Yeah, not very enticing. The $500 Topo robot from the same era could carry items in small mechanized arms. Several companies have shown off robots recently, for example the Asus Zenbo. Few have made it past the tech demo stage. By far the most successful domestic robot is the Roomba, which only vacuums your floor.

If the Vesta project survives, Amazon could begin testing the device in homes in late 2018. A full consumer launch could happen as early as 2019.

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