Does Amazon need a robot?
Amazon.com is developing its first consumer robot product, and it could reach American homes as soon as early 2019, according to Bloomberg.
Known internally as “Vesta,” the project has been under development for several years through Lab 126, the division responsible for Echo and Kindle. Amazon ramped up hiring for the project ramped up this year with a goal to seed devices in employees’ homes by year end.
No details have emerged on exactly what the robot looks like or what it can do, but sources familiar with the project told Bloomberg that Vesta “could be a sort of mobile Alexa,” accompanying users to places in their homes that don’t have Alexa devices. Backed by cameras and computer vision software, prototypes “can navigate through homes like a self-driving car,” Bloomberg reported.
Vesta could move similarly to the Roomba line of vacuum cleaners, recent versions of which are able to connect to Echo and Google Home.
“A mobile Alexa could still be very useful for Amazon and for users,” wrote James Vincent for The Verge. “It would allow the company’s virtual assistant to take on a more personal role, and the spatial information it collected could make Alexa function better.”
Several personal robots, such as Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri and LG’s Hub, have recently been introduced to the market to help control smart home devices and offer companionship. Priced at $700, Kuri began accepting pre-orders in December. In a review, TechCrunch wrote, “Kuri’s designed to autonomously navigate the house, learn over time, automatically capture special moments, play back music, audiobooks and podcasts, and generally be a pal around the house.”
Amazon has owned robotics-maker Kiva Systems since 2012 and has developed voice recognition expertise and AI skillsets in its work with Alexa. While exorbitant pricing and limited functionality has held back consumer robots in the past, Amazon has shown an openness to sharp pricing to gain traction with launches.
Wrote Jeremy Horowitz for VentureBeat, “As Bloomberg points out, advances in computer vision and AI may enable Amazon’s device to turn the corner by adding more advanced functionality and autonomy, while the company’s typically aggressive pricing strategy could make Vesta — unlike, say, Sony’s robot dog Aibo — appealing to budget-conscious consumers.”
- If Amazon is building a home robot, how close are we to ‘The Jetsons’? – The Washington Post/Daily Herald
- Amazon is working on another big bet: Robots for the home – Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times
- Amazon is reportedly working on its first home robot – The Verge
- Amazon is reportedly planning ‘Vesta’ home robot for 2019 – VentureBeat
- Kuri the adorable home robot starts shipping to pre-order customers – TechCrunch
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would Amazon benefit by coming out with a robot to support the Echo smart home experience? Is a robot product likely to appeal to consumers? Would a robot enhance Alexa as a shopping tool?