As a smart home reviewer of a certain age, all I’ve wanted is a Rosie the Robot for my home. The Jetsonsmechanical housekeeper was the example I stuck with Amazon’s Astro when I tested the company’s first home robot – and unsurprisingly it failed. Not just because it had no arms, but because it couldn’t do anything.
Now, according to internal Amazon documents seen by Insider, the company believes it has found the keys to unlocking Astro’s potential. Burnham is a secret new AI robot project that Amazon is developing that, according to the documents, adds a layer of “intelligence and a conversational interface” to a smart home robot, reports Insider.
An upgraded Astro, powered by Burnham, could use large language models and other advanced AI to become a home robot that understands the context of a busy household and responds appropriately. According to Insiderthe documents indicate that the technology “remembers what it saw and understood” and that the robot can then “enter into a Q&A dialogue about what it saw” and use AI powered by LLMs to act on it.
For example, the documents describe an Astro product that Burnham uses to find a burning stove or a running faucet and track down the owner to alert them. It can monitor someone who has fallen and call 911 if it’s an emergency. It could help find your keys, check if a window was left open at night and check if kids had friends after school, according to the documents. These are all things you can do to some extent with existing smart home technology, but they require multiple steps, devices and actions, as opposed to one – Astro.
Most interestingly, however, Amazon seems to be exploring initiating more complex tasks. One example was a robot that sees broken glass on the floor, knows it’s a hazard, and prioritizes sweeping it up before anyone steps on it – essentially locating and possibly fixing problems.
This “contextual understanding,” as Amazon describes the technology in the documents, is the “latest and most advanced AI technology designed to make robots more intelligent, useful, and talkative.” So basically Rosie the Robot (but without the arms).
However, Burnham isn’t coming to a robot near you any time soon. Amazon acknowledges in the documents that it still has a long way to go before putting Burnham in a product. You still can’t buy the current not-so-savvy Astro without an invite either, the price just jumped to $1,600, and Insider notes that Amazon has scrapped plans to release a cheaper version.
Even amid the rapid adoption of generative AI by tech companies like Amazon, a home robot as capable as Rosie is still just a character in science fiction. While Amazon’s statement in one document, “Our robot has a strong body. What we need next is a brain,” makes me think twice about how much I really want an intelligent, AI-powered robot in my home .