Amazon Launches a Social Consumer Robot that Integrates with Smart Home

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By Jonathan Collins | 4Q 2021 | IN-6307

Amazon launched a range of new smart home products, further emphasizing the importance and value of its own connected devices in consumer homes, at Amazon’s fall 2021 new product event.

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Amazon's Astro and Social Robots Move Toward Mainstream

NEWS


Amazon launched a range of new smart home products, further emphasizing the importance and value of its own connected devices in consumer homes, at Amazon’s fall 2021 new product event. While headlines went to Amazon’s Astro household robot, there were plenty of other devices that were announced as the company moved to further cement its place in the smart home market and to support new subscription revenue streams.

Autonomous Robot, Larger Smart Screen, Smart Thermostat and Services

IMPACT


The Amazon Astro is Amazon’s major move into consumer robotics, and unlike third-party consumer robotic home-care offerings that integrate with Alexa, the autonomous navigating device has Alexa embedded onboard and is focused on connected and social capabilities rather than a dedicated home-care task.

The Astro weighs 20 pounds and has a 10.1-inch touchscreen display with the usual Echo Show functionality that is also able to use animated eyes and more to visually communicate with and engage users. The robot is equipped with two cameras—a 5 MP cam with night-vision LEDs in the bezel and a 1080-pixel periscope cam that can extend up to 42 inches from the floor. Four different processors are onboard: two Qualcomm QCS605 chips, one Qualcomm SDA660 chip, and Amazon’s own AZ1 Neural Edge processor. The device leverages on-device machine learning and vision as well as sensors to deliver simultaneous localization and mapping.

Amazon highlighted the robot’s ability to follow or find individuals to deliver various forms of entertainment or video calls, messages, and reminders. It also has space to carry physical objects, including a detachable cup holder. As with all Echo devices, users can physically switch off Astro’s cameras, microphones, and motion at any time with a hardware switch, and there are additional controls such as “out of bounds zones” to restrict its wanderings in the home.

Amazon has also paired the Astro robot with additional subscription services: the security-focused Ring Protect Pro and Alexa Together that enables people to remotely care for older loved ones. Initially priced at US$999 for trial customers, the robot is set to be priced at US$1,500 when fully available.

Amazon has also extended its smart home play with the following items:

  • The Echo Show 15 smart display: A wall-mounted 15-inch touchscreen that will compete directly with smart home security panels. The device uses the next-generation Amazon AZ2 Neural Edge processor backed by a quad-core scalable architecture that is more than 20 times faster than its predecessor.
  • The Amazon Smart Thermostat: The device is priced well below major rivals Nest and Ecobee as well as budget offerings from players such as Wyze and is priced at US$59.99 without the C-wire adapter or US$74.99 with it.
  • The Ring Alarm Pro: The Ring Alarm Pro is a single device that combines a central base for the Ring security system, an eero mesh Wi-Fi 6 router, optional whole-home back-up high-speed LTE connectivity, and local processing and storage for Ring cameras. It includes two Ethernet ports, Bluetooth, a Z-wave radio, 2.4 GHz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6, and LTE. Support for Sidewalk and Thread is embedded but not switched on.
  • Ring Virtual Security Guard: A new subscription service that adds professional human monitoring to your security cameras to evaluate detected events. Priced at US$99 per month, it requires Ring Alarms, outdoor cameras, and a subscription to either Ring Protect Pro or Ring Plus, which costs US$200 and US$100 per year, respectively. Agents from Ring Partners With Rapid Response have prearranged methods of dealing with issues that are detected.

From Home Security to In-Home Care

RECOMMENDATIONS


With its latest round of new products and upgrades, Amazon has shown that it is not only invested in the smart home space but also that it is willing to test and trial new device types. That strategic commitment, combined with the company’s obvious scale and consumer awareness, will bring focus to an emerging product space and will raise the market significantly. A successful Astro adoption has the potential to do for consumer robotics what the company has done for voice control front-end devices. When Amazon launched its first Echo devices, it kick-started a whole market not only for smart speakers but also for ancillary devices and services that leverage voice control platforms.

Amazon has chosen to market this device primarily as a home security offering. It’s an understandable decision, given that home security monitoring position is the bedrock of recurring smart home spending. In addition, while the functionality and pricing may be too much for most consumers, there is a likelihood that the robot will appeal directly to small- and medium-sized businesses looking to lower costs for security reporting and control. But there is clear potential for the device to offer in-home social care.

A handful of companies are looking to deliver social consumer robotics to older individuals and to those who are living alone and who are at risk, but none have the ability to create and drive demand the way that Amazon can. While some will blanche at the potential privacy aspects of Amazon’s entry into the market, the reach and ability to drive tag prices down indicate that Amazon’s Astro will open the market in a way no other company can.

Amazon Alexa’s existing Drop In feature allows caregivers to contact residents remotely and unobtrusively. Astro’s ability to move around the home by either following an occupant or under the guidance of a remote care provider along with the Drop In feature delivers a significant value within any ambient assisted living application.

It’s clear that Amazon remains committed to the smart home space, and it will continue to be a major influence on the direction of the market. That said, Amazon’s announcements can also seem opportunistic and disparate. For example, the first Matter specification—an effort Amazon helped to initiate—is expected early next year, suggesting that support for Thread across its smart home offerings are not uniform. The new smart thermostat does not support Thread, and neither does the Ring Alarm Pro (although the required hardware is present). In addition, Ring remains staunchly embedded with Z-Wave despite some earlier limited support for Zigbee. In another example, the Astro makes do with the AZ1 Neural Edge processor for edge intelligence while the Echo Show 15 has the latest generation of the processor.

Without a doubt, Amazon has won the attention of the technology world with the announcement of the Astro. If the robot delivers its promised functionality without too many glitches, it could drive social robots into homes and help sway the direction of the market. Data from initial installations will be shared directly with Amazon and will support the development of the product. If the product doesn’t prove successful, Amazon has shown it can quickly withdraw a product and move on, but in this case, while Astro may go, Amazon is clearly invested in the long-term development and provision of consumer robotics—and with good reason. Consumer robotics adoption is in its earliest stages—even given the popularity and awareness of devices such as robot vacuum cleaners—and Amazon’s Astro is a solid stake in the ground.

For greater detail on the current market and the future potential for consumer robotics across home care, social robots, and toy/entertainment robotics, see the recently published Consumer Robotics and Smart Appliance (MD-HACRSA-101) market data report.

 

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