News reports surfaced today that Amazon may be working on it’s own robot. According to Bloomberg, the retail giant has been working on a project codenamed “Vesta”(the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family) and is being run out of Amazon’s Lab126 hardware R&D division, which came up with the Echo and Fire line of tablets and set-top boxes.
Sources tell Bloomberg that Vesta would be like a mobile Alexa, that follows people around. Vesta could also autonomously travel around a home using high end cameras and computer vision. Vesta could potentially be in home tests later this year and available for purchase in 2019.
Like with any futuristic news of this sort, it must be taken with a few grains of salt. I’ve no doubt that Amazon is working on a home robot, because Amazon is working on everything. But the idea that it will be a general mobile Alexa seems counterintuitive based on how Amazon normally works and how much the company believes in efficiency.
Let’s start with Alexa itself, the company’s voice controlled smart assistant. With Echo Dots being so cheap, it is much easier to outfit an entire house with a dozen of those small smart pucks than wait for a robot to follow you around to answer your questions or set a timer. Not to mention how much of an impediment stairs would be.
Additionally, as we’ve seen from patent filings and recent purchases, Amazon is looking at embedding itself deeper and more directly into devices. It’s at least exploring a smart fridge that can sniff out bad food, and a high-tech garden device that can see what types of food you are growing.
The company also recently purchased Blink, which made cloud-connected cameras, and Ring, maker of the connected doorbell. The Blink acquisition actually came with computer vision chip technology that the the company had developed. This type of computer vision could be used to help a robot navigate around couches, but more likely it could be shrunk down so you can put smart cameras in fridges and pantries to help you with household inventory management.
On top of all that, Alexa is being embedded into appliances like the LG SmartThinq line of refrigerators and ovens. This type of integration will enable more guided cooking — Alexa picks out a recipe based on what you have in your fridge and will tell the oven to preheat. In a kitchen this type of ethereal help seems more efficient than a small robot scurrying around to grab your parsley (not to mention running around your house brandishing a butcher knife).
Having said all that! I’m sure Bezos and Co. are working on a robot. In fact, last year Amazon received a patent for techniques for mobile device charging using robotics. My guess is whatever shape this robot takes will not just be another version of Alexa, but will surprise use with an entirely new use case.