Amazon Employees Worry New Astro Home Robot Only for Rich People, Will Fail – Business Insider

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Amazon’s new Astro home-roaming device is either the greatest tech innovation, or a niche, gimmicky product that will become the biggest flop in the company’s history.
That’s according to Insider conversations with more than half a dozen Amazon employees who worked on the Astro device, internally codenamed Vesta. The internet giant unveiled the highly-anticipated home robot on Tuesday, following years of debate about the product’s design and viability, as Insider previously reported.
One particularly bullish employee said Astro is a category-creator that will raise awareness about the need for home-robot assistants. Initially, Astro will target upper-income households that can easily dole out $1,000 to buy the latest gadgets, this person said, citing a likely customer as a friend who is a “child of a hedge fund founder” with multiple human assistants and housekeepers.
“We think every titan of the industry will want one of these in their homes,” this person said. “Trust me, if you have any rich friends, they’ll buy it as soon as it is announced.”
Another employee was less enthusiastic. This person was skeptical of Astro’s high price, which is out of character for an Amazon device. They were also concerned about its limited functionality, saying there’s no real market need.
“Who would want to dish out $1,000 on that? It’s really expensive,” this person said. “Can’t imagine a middle-class person buying it.”
Some had an even darker view for Astro. Several people likened it to the disastrous Fire Phone, Amazon’s smartphone that ceased production just a year after its release in 2014, and cost the company almost $170 million in unsold inventory.
“We already know it’s going to fail,” one of the people said. “I anticipate a similar outcome to the Fire Phone.” The employees asked not to be identified discussing sensitive topics.
New, unconventional devices can often prompt drastically different reactions when they launch, even among people who have worked on the projects. Apple’s iPad and AirPods were initially mocked by some, but became huge hits. Astro, initially priced at $999, is a three-wheeled, home-roaming device with a mounted screen that can follow you around. Amazon describes it as a “household robot for home monitoring” that can play music, deliver calls, and set timers via the company’s Alexa digital assistant technology.
“Every new-to-world invention has skeptics—automobiles, TVs, Kindle, Alexa to name a few. If you only listen to them, invention dies,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “We choose to be optimists, and believe robots will make a meaningful difference in customers’ lives. Our team has a vision for a future, 5-10 years from now, where every home will have a robot—and we’re excited to get started.”
Amazon has big ambitions for Astro. One of the people who talked to Insider said the long-term goal is to turn it into “the ultimate personal assistant” that can carry things, like books, and perform other specific tasks at home. The company could also add accessories, like hands, in the future, three of the people said. To expand the possible use cases, Amazon hopes to turn Astro’s software into a platform, where developers can build apps on top of it, similar to third-party software built for the iPhone or the Apple Watch, one of the people said.
Other ideas being discussed include adding vacuuming capabilities, security features for outside the home, and the ability to complete other chores, such as sorting daily medications, one of the people said. “It will kill the for-hire assistant business,” the person added. Amazon said Astro is not a replacement for nurses or maids, noting that the robot can’t lift things or climb stairs.
The pressure is high for Astro to succeed. Astro is considered Jeff Bezos’s last passion project before he stepped down as CEO, because he was directly involved in the development process, giving almost daily feedback on its progress. The home-robot device, in effect, has the potential to become Bezos’s lasting legacy at Amazon, or a black mark on his illustrious career, these people said.
Some employees argued the Astro could follow a similar path to the Echo, which was initially seen as a novelty product with very little mainstream appeal when it launched in 2014. Since then, the Echo has grown into a major success, with more than 100 million Alexa-powered devices sold. The price for Astro, in particular, will likely drop in the future as it sells more and the company makes technological advances, two people said.
Amazon’s senior vice president Dave Limp said during Tuesday’s presentation that every home will have a robot “in 5 to 10 years.” In a separate interview with Wired, Limp compared Astro to the Echo, saying the home robot could be an equally surprising hit.
Still, some Amazon employees were less bullish about Astro’s appeal. One person said it’s simply an “expensive toy,” and compared it to Google Glass, the smart glasses that drew lots of attention when it launched in 2013, but ultimately failed as a consumer product.
“It’s fun to play with,” this person said. “But is this something everyone is going to say, ‘Oh, I need this?’ I don’t know.”
Do you work at Amazon? Contact reporter Eugene Kim via the encrypted messaging apps Signal or Telegram (+1-650-942-3061) or email ([email protected]).

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