In case you thought the Echo in your living room laughing maniacally out of nowhere wasn’t creepy enough, just imagine what it would be like if it followed you around. A Bloomberg report suggests that Amazon is working on an actual home robot that will wander around your abode, navigating obstacles and ostensibly following your orders. Please remain calm, however, as it will probably be terrible, as home robots usually are.
Behind the “Vesta” project is Amazon’s Lab126 division, responsible for the company’s hardware successes like the Kindle and Echo. It was also responsible for the Fire Phone, but let’s not go there. The division has published a bunch of robotics-related job openings online, Bloomberg found, along with positions like “Computer Vision and Deep Learning Research Scientist,” though that listing seems to have been pulled offline. Still, this sort of hire would make perfect sense if you’re constructing a robot designed to navigate an ever-changing environment like a home.
Amazon’s already got a finger in robotics with Amazon Robotics, responsible for the autonomous machines that move packages around Amazon warehouses, though the two projects reportedly aren’t associated with each other.
According to Bloomberg, “People familiar with the project speculate that the Vesta robot could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices.” The robots will be outfitted with equipment similar to the tech found on self-driving cars, according to the report, with cameras that allow them to navigate around your furniture. While the robots are apparently scheduled to end up in employees’ homes by the end of this year, there’s no guarantee that Amazon will meet the self-imposed deadline, or if the project will even make it past the prototyping phase.
But 2018 seems to be the year of the robot, and everyone’s trying to shove them down our collective throats. Sony’s bringing back the Aibo (after ignoring the cries of its most die-hard fans for years), LG showed off an in-home robot that works about as well as you’d expect (as in, barely), and Boston Dynamics taught its SpotMini robodog some new, unsettling tricks.
A mobile Alexa that could follow me around while I bark orders at it like a disgruntled newspaper editor chomping on a cigar sounds quite convenient, but if you need an Alexa-enabled device to follow you around your house, why not just spend $100 on a pair of Echo Dot devices and put them where you need them, instead of purchasing a walking intercom?
Despite the prevalence of simpler home robots like Roombas, I don’t think the tech necessary for a useful, Alexa-friendly mobile bot is ready for primetime. Sure, telepresence robots exist, and can tear through office buildings pretty quickly if everyone’s out of the way (and if the Wi-Fi is solid). But they can cost thousands of dollars and they’re bulky as hell. Unless Amazon’s “domestic” bot can open doors or bust some backflips a la Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, save it—because the second it gets caught on my rug, or knocks over my Thomas Blackshear sculpture, we’re gonna have some big problems.
Although, ordering my robot to terrorize—excuse me, “play with”—my dog might prove worth the cost of admission.