Astro is designed to track everyone in a household according to leaked documents
Amazon's big event showcase, the Astro robot is "terrible" according to the people who worked on the project. These documents say that Astro is designed to track everyone in a household, which is essential for performing its surveillance and helper duties. The only problem, is that the robot's person recognition system is deeply flawed.
Documents acquired by Motherboard detail how Astro requires everyone in a household to enrol their voices and faces. This is done, so that Astro can learn the number of people, that are regulars in a household.
These documents and meetings refer to the project with its internal codename "Vesta" and spell out how the robot works.
Surveillance and Patrol
Astro is designed to patrol a household using scan points, which are areas of interest that provide the best vantage point for its camera's to capture surroundings.
The robot moves from scan point to the next, looking for activity that might be irregular or out of the ordinary. If it spots something suspicious, Astro will begin investigating that area, and will follow any unidentified persons not in its database.
Astro takes about 30 seconds to determine if a person in the household is supposed to be there or is unknown. If it's the latter, Astro will begin following the stranger around. It will record audio and video of the unknown person and upload it for the users to view later.
When Astro completes one patrol of the household, another one is automatically scheduled an hour from the current patrol timings.
If a user has disabled "Stranger Detection," Astro will not investigate. Since the robot is voice activated, it can be given commands to start or stop activities.
A user can also put Astro in "Away" mode, which will make the robot periodically scan surroundings, and can also livestream a feed from its camera's to another user device like a phone, when they are away.
"Astro is terrible and will almost certainly throw itself down a flight of stairs if presented the opportunity," says a source close to Motherboard, who worked on the project.
They also bought into question, the robot's abilities for security of the household. According to the meetings, Astro's face recognition capabilities aren't up to par, with what Amazon promises.
The device is also fragile and had several issues with the mast, which locked itself in "an extended or retracted position, and there's no way to ship it to Amazon when that happens."
Astro's capability as an accessibility device for handicapped owners are also suspect, given that tests have already shown the device can fall off a flight of stairs.
A source also conveyed his opinion that Astro was not ready for release, since they had a high chance of "breaking themselves."
When contacted by Motherboard for a comment, Kristy Schmidt, senior PR manager for Amazon's devices and services said, "in addition to consulting with several Amazon Scholars who specialize in computer vision, we also consulted with an external expert in algorithmic bias, Ayanna Howard, dean of the Ohio State University College of Engineering, to review the steps we took to enhance the fairness of this feature."