Daily Authority: 😬 Amazon’s robot “disaster”

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Amazon’s Fall, Amazon falling robot?

amazon astro 1 Amazon’s Fall hardware event was stacked with new devices and gizmos and marketing hype, as you might expect. 

  • It was also punctured by people who built its new robot, who said the just-announced Amazon Astro robot is “terrible” and will “throw itself down stairs,” and a “disaster that’s not ready for release.”
  • Ouch.

First, what’s new:

  • Too many things were announced by Amazon to recap in total, but a couple of things my colleagues are interested in are the Echo Show 15 ($250), which is a 15.6-inch display form factor Echo device that you can prop or even hang around your house.
  • There’s also a new Amazon Smart Thermostat ($60) that brings cut-price competition to what we see from Nest and others, though no availability yet.
  • There are new fitness trackers and a video calling device, and software improvements were made too: Ring Video Doorbells are finally getting the ability to alert you about a package

But the big story out of the show is Amazon Astro: a much-rumored robot that’s now here as an Alexa-on-wheels, which combines Alexa’s voice assistant chops with an Echo Show-like tablet, Ring’s home security system, two Qualcomm chips, and motorized wheels so it can roam around your home.

  • In Amazon’s view, that means it can be called and it’ll come, so you can ask Alexa questions.
  • It can offer security measures, or dial in to its periscope camera to get a view of stuff in your house, like checking the oven is turned off.
  • That’s because it has “ultrasonic sensors, time-of-flight cameras, and other imaging tools that let the robot know what’s around it and where it’s going,” according to The Verge.
  • It can apparently recognize faces, though more on that in a second.
  • After an introductory price of $999.99, Astro’s price will increase to $1,449.99.

Amazon Astro

Problems, oh the problems:

  • It’s only available to a limited number of people, at Amazon’s invitation, which suggests Amazon hasn’t really found a use for it, yet.
  • It can’t go up and down stairs. It doesn’t have arms, so it can’t bring you a cold can from the fridge. While it offers security, it can’t really do anything about an intruder. Plus, it’s all tied into Ring which means more subscriptions.
  • But incredibly, Vice published documents and insights from those who worked on the device, and it shreds Amazon’s own ideas (like, providing accessibility options for some people or eldery family.)
  • Developers who worked on Astro say the versions of the robot they worked on did not work well and broke easily…

The quotes are amazing:

  • “‘Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented with the opportunity. The person detection is unreliable at best, making the in-home security proposition laughable,’ a source who worked on the project said. ‘The device feels fragile for something with an absurd cost. The mast has broken on several devices, locking itself in the extended or retracted position, and there’s no way to ship it to Amazon when that happens.’”
  • “‘They’re also pushing it as an accessibility device but with the masts breaking and the possibility that at any given moment it’ll commit suicide on a flight of stairs, it’s, at best, absurdist nonsense and marketing and, at worst, potentially dangerous for anyone who’d actually rely on it for accessibility purposes,’ the source said.”
  • Privacy and navigation were also mentioned as key concerns, with another person telling Vice,“it’s a disaster that’s not ready for release. They break themselves and will almost certainly fall down stairs in real world users’ homes.”
  • Amazon refuted these claims with its own statements about rigorous testing and so on, as it would.
  • But the real surprise out of all this is getting the leaked documents and reports the same day Amazon announced it.

Also: With half of Amazon’s announcements around security, Amazon is turning into a personal security company, which seems terrifying(Engadget).

Roundup

📦 Here’s absolutely everything Amazon announced at its hardware event (Android Authority).

💵 Alleged Google Pixel 6 pricing (in Europe) has appeared, and it’s not bad if it’s accurate: Pixel 6 at €649 and Pixel 6 Pro at €899. That would usually correspond closely with US pricing eg $650/$900. We’ll find out next month but many were expecting the Pro to be more than $1,000… (Android Authority).

😬 A report suggests Samsung mobile chief TM Roh twice visited the US (and likely Qualcomm) to ask for more chips but nothing could be done, and another exec was left stranded in the US, told not to come back “until the situation was resolved.” (Android Authority).

⌚ Samsung’s future smartwatches could include handy solar charging tech in the watch strap (Android Authority).

👉 @OnLeaks has provided an alternative Samsung Galaxy S22 Ulta render, with less of a “P” shaped rear camera housing that looks a bit more like an actual design (Android Authority).

🎮 Amazon finally launched its long-awaited MMO game, New World, on PC, yesterday, and a bunch of people are trying it out. Here’s the launch trailer(YouTube).

😬 Facebook’s research on kids even considered turning playdates into growth drivers (The Verge).

🔎 Google says Bing’s most popular search term is Google (Gizmodo).

⛔Russia threatens to block YouTube after RT TV’s channels were deleted (Reuters).

📺 Netflix buys a game developer for the first time: Night School Studio, which made Oxenfree, and will keep working on a sequel (Engadget).

🛫 The FAA and NASA created a system at airports focused on airplanes taxiing, which wastes time, fuel, and burns emissions, and after four years of tests it’s saved crazy amounts of fuel already. Rolling out to 27 more busy US airports across the years (Wired).

🔋 Finally one of the long awaited electric trucks makes it to market: 2022 Rivian R1T ($67,500) first drive reviews are out, here’s one from CNET and one from Ars Technica, both of which are impressed.

🚀Elon Musk to Jeff Bezos: “You cannot sue your way to the Moon” (The Verge).

🎬What movie is, in your opinion, a perfect movie?” (r/askreddit).

Wednesday Weirdness

The New York Times has, in good fun, cooked up seven gadgets to make you less weird when you go back to the office, like a little mirror you can stick to someone else in a meeting so that you can continue to look at yourself, just as you might on Zoom.

My favorite though is the “Hugger Buffer”:

Hugger Buffer

  • Here’s what it does: “Ease yourself into full-swing hugging with the help of this full-size dummy. Tie it to the front of your body and let your boss/co-worker/barista hug this lifeless form, not you!”
  • Another good one — conversation flashcards to keep the water cooler vibes flowing: “Today is a damp one, aye?” “Hello, my name is…!” “Are your children maintaining their health?”

Ps. Thursday’s newsletter may not make it, I’m stuck with various morning duties that might impede. But, back Friday! 

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor

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