Amazon says widespread launch of its Astro home robot is finally ‘in sight’

Amazon.com.’s Astro robot debuted to much fanfare last year, but has since shipped very little, and the company’s head of equipment said it should be more widely available in the coming months.

Dave Limp, the senior vice president who leads its devices and services division, said Amazon is still working through issues related to Astro’s ability to map and navigate customers’ homes. For now, the robots are by invitation only, and they’re still a rare sight outside of Amazon.

But the general availability of the robot is “less than a year old,” Limp said in an interview. He said it could be sooner, but was reluctant to predict the date. “I think we’re close,” he said. “I do think we need to fix some issues. But it’s here.”

Although still a work in progress, Astro’s new device event On Wednesday, the company said it was looking to turn robots into corporate security guards.The announcement is part of a series of product news that includes the debut of a sleep tracking gadget and Kindle e-reader Let users write on digital pages.

Amazon’s Ring division also announced a pair of new home security cameras and other updated devices. Ring’s Spotlight Cam Pro — the most significant new Ring hardware unveiled at the event — will feature a radar-based camera for 3D motion detection and a bird’s-eye view. These features were previously included in Ring’s high-end doorbells for better visibility into your surroundings, but are now more affordable.

Regardless of Astro’s fate, home robots are expected to become a bigger part of Amazon’s lineup.company announced plans Acquired Roomba maker IRobot Corp. for $1.65 billion in August. The deal still requires regulatory approval from governments around the world, but Limp told Bloomberg Television on Wednesday that he was optimistic it would be completed.

Compared to Amazon’s Kindle or Echo smart speakers, the Astro robot has a price tag of $1,000, rising to $1,450 after the launch period, and it’s likely to remain a niche product. But he said Limp and his team discussed plans for a wider release this week, and they just wanted to enhance Amazon’s navigation capabilities before it made the robot available to everyone. Astro still gets confused in rare room setups, such as areas with floor-to-ceiling glass near mirrors, he said.

Amazon initially hopes to ship the first Astro devices to invited customers by the end of 2021, Limp said. Supply chain constraints prevented that from happening until the end of January or February, he said.

Packing the Astro with its sensors and four processors is powerful enough to reassure Amazon engineers that it won’t fall down the stairs. But it also makes the product more vulnerable to supply shortages. “In many ways, we overbuilt the hardware there,” Limp said.

More broadly, supply chain constraints have eased after a rough patch, Limp said on Bloomberg TV. “I don’t think we’re through yet,” he said, “but I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Thousands of people have requested invitations to buy Astro, Limp said, adding that he’s not sure how many of those inquiries will turn into actual sales.

Initial reviewers and some customers said the device, which looked a bit like a tablet on wheels strapped to a cup holder, was charming but lacked must-have features. Limp said his team is working to add more personality to Astro’s answers to questions.

Limp said he was also surprised by the strong demand for the device from businesses. That’s what led Amazon’s Ring division to see Astro’s potential as a security guard.

As part of a pilot project, Ring is expanding its security monitoring service to leverage Astro’s capabilities. The bot might investigate alerts, observe the scene using cameras, and notify Ring-contracted security centers if an alert might be required. Ring plans to test the service with a small group of businesses in the coming months.

Amazon bought Ring in 2018 and turned the group into a key part of its hardware business. In addition to recruiting Astro, it has built more intelligence and functionality into its security equipment.

The new radar technology will allow Ring’s Spotlight Cam Pro cameras to better measure the distance of objects and trigger alerts more accurately. This addresses complaints from some Ring owners who said current cameras and motion sensors could be causing false positives.

Radar systems will allow cameras to more accurately locate specific objects or determine if someone is in the frame. The Bird’s Eye View feature shows a top-down view of the motion captured by the Ring device.

Amazon will sell the battery-powered version of the Spotlight Cam Pro for $230 and the solar model for $250. The company says the Spotlight Cam Plus, a $200 lower-end alternative, is also getting a new design and will launch in the coming months. Ring’s latest panic button, a device that can be carried around or mounted on a wall, is less expensive than previous models. It will cost $30, down from $35.

It may take a while for some of Amazon’s innovations to catch on — if at all. Ring announced an indoor flying drone two years ago, but its numbers are still limited.

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