Amazon is reportedly developing its first robot for the home, according to Bloomberg. The project has been given the internal codename “Vesta,” named after the Roman goddess of the hearth. It’s being developed by Lab126, the Amazon hardware R&D center that previously built the Kindle, Fire Phone, and Echo.
There are no firm details on what Amazon’s robot looks like or what purpose it will serve, but Bloomberg suggests it could be a sort of “mobile Alexa” — following users around their house to places where they can’t speak directly to an Echo speaker. Prototype robots built by Amazon reportedly have computer vision software and cameras for navigation, and the company is said to be planning to seed devices in employees’ homes by the end of the year. Bloomberg notes that the general public might be able to test such robot prototypes “as early as 2019.”
From such scant details, it’s difficult to know exactly what Amazon is planning, but it’s safe to say that a home robot in this case does not mean some sort of “robot butler able to perform a variety of household chores.” The technology needed for this sort of device just doesn’t exist yet in the commercial sphere (although companies like Boston Dynamics are working on it).
Instead, “home robot” more likely means a virtual assistant housed in some sort of mechanical exterior. Plenty of these have been unveiled in recent years, including LG’s Hub bot, Mayfield Robotics’ Kuri, and the Pixar-like Jibo. These devices are intended to act as a central point of contact for users’ smart home and as personal companions. They let users control Wi-Fi-connected devices, perform tasks like setting timers and searching the web, and have a greater number of interactive games for younger children. Reviews of these “robots” stress that they promise more than they deliver, and indeed, Amazon’s Echo devices already offer the same functionality with less hype.
That being said, a mobile Alexa could still be very useful for Amazon and for users. 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. The CEO of iRobot, maker of the Roomba, told The Verge last week that mobile home robots will be more important in the future, with the data they collect used to make smart homes more intuitive. If a robot maps and understands your home, then commands like “turn on the lights in the kitchen” make more sense.
Ultimately, though, it’s too early to guess what Amazon’s intentions are, and it’s completely possible that this research might not make it to a finished product. (Or, indeed, it might just flop spectacularly, like the Fire Phone.) We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment and will update if we hear more.