Amazon’s Astro Robot Is an Invasive Spy and Incredibly Stupid, According to Leaked Documents

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Photo: Amazon – Astro is said to collect a lot of information about your house and everyone who lives in it. Amazon has a new robot, “Astro,” a sneaky little cyber-pet that is meant to be a funny household assistant akin to R2D2, but is actually a privacy nightmare and a malfunctioning disaster.

The $1,000 bot, which Amazon introduced today, is billed as a “domestic assistant”—basically an Alexa on wheels with a security component—and is, on the surface, cute. According to Motherboard, which recently spoke with people and saw papers related to the project, Astro is a cold, hard bundle of wires and gears devoted primarily to scooping up and analyzing as much of your personal information as possible.

According to the site, when the robot first enters the home, owners must “enroll” the faces and voices of anybody who is likely to be there so that the metal critter understands who is supposed to be there and who isn’t. Astro was built to “handle a lot of the data processing on the device, including the pictures and raw sensor data it analyses as it moves around your home,” according to Kristy Schmidt, senior PR manager for devices and services at Amazon. “This enables Astro to react fast to its surroundings. Additionally, your visual ID is kept on the device, and Astro recognizes you via on-device processing.”

According to leaked documents, most of that data is collected to aid the robot’s “security” role. The robot, dubbed “Vesta” (after the ancient Roman goddess of the hearth), may reportedly be set to “Sentry” mode, which allows it to patrol the house for individuals or situations it doesn’t recognize. When it encounters someone whose face it hasn’t yet added to its database, it stalks them about the home, gathering and storing data on them until they tell it to stop. Fun!

According to the paper, “Sentry is obligated to examine any unidentified individual detected by it or any Audio Event if specific circumstances are met.” “If the individual has been unidentified for more than 30 seconds [seconds], Sentry should try to identify them first. Sentry should start tracking the individual until Sentry Mode is turned off when the person is detected as unknown or 30 seconds have passed.”

According to Motherboard, the robot may also be linked with an app that allows the homeowner to broadcast footage from within their home while they are away.

“When unknown people are present, Vesta carefully and intelligently patrols the home, traveling from scan point to scan point (the ideal location and stance in any given space to glance around) searching and listening for odd activity,” according to another stolen paper. “Vesta goes to a predefined scan point and assumes a position to scan any given room, seeing beyond and over obstructions. Vesta has completed one patrol when it has scanned every scan point on the floorplan.”

The robot is also designed to interact with Amazon Ring, the company’s terrible home security system that also serves as an unofficial monitoring network for cops around the country. Astro would allegedly respond to events related to Ring after pairing, patrolling the house if an alarm was triggered.

However, despite the product’s invasive potential, Astro may still be ineffective. The functionality of prior incarnations of the robot, according to many people who worked on it, was extremely restricted.

“Astro is horrible, and if given the chance, will almost definitely fling itself down a flight of stairs. One unnamed engineer told Motherboard, “The human detection is inconsistent at best, making the in-home security offer ridiculous.” “For anything with such a high price tag, the gadget seems flimsy. When the mast breaks on some devices, it locks itself in the extended or retracted position, and there’s no way to get it to Amazon.”

All of this makes purchasing the bot sound like a weird and pointless activity, akin to putting motorized wheels to a large camera and having it move about your house uncomfortably. The device isn’t even capable of vacuuming.