Amazon reportedly wants us all to have Alexa home robots looking after our families from next year
Just as you wouldn’t hire a ghost to be your butler – passable straight-to-DVD comedy that such a premise would be – the Amazon Echo makes for a pretty limited servant. As a disembodied voice and computer, Alexa has proved very adept at playing music, keeping you abreast of the news and telling jokes, but less effective at tidying up and folding clothes. For that, a flesh and blood assistant still has the edge.
And while we’re a long way away from a Westworld-style humanoid to do the housework that you’re too lazy for, Amazon does at least have plans to close the gap between virtual and actual assistant, Bloomberg reports. People familiar with the plans have said the project is codenamed Vesta (that’s the Roman goddess of home and family, rather than the collective noun for vests), and that it could be in employee homes by the end of the years, and on Amazon to buy in 2019.
Okay, but what is it? That’s less clear. At the very least, we’re likely looking at a kind of Echo on wheels – a robot that can follow you throughout the house, meaning you have voice commands in rooms where your old-fashioned wheel-less Echo can’t hear you.
But if it’s just that, then that’s a little underwhelming frankly – after all, Echo Dots are just £50 a piece (and often on sale) – which likely makes kitting out every room in your house with them cheaper than having a robot Echo traipsing after you. Not to mention the fact that even our most successful example of the genre – the robot vacuum cleaner – can’t climb up and down stairs. On that note, it could be an Alexa-powered vacuum cleaner – but that’s a touch underwhelming too, given that some existing products already have Alexa controls.
Even if we are looking at something far more ambitious, the timescales involved don’t inspire a great deal of confidence. Our current batch of humanoid robots often succeed in just doing a human job poorly. It’s at this point we spare a thought for Fabio – sacked from Edinburgh’s Margiotta grocery store after a week of creeping people out.
Still, if anything can trigger about a rise in consumer robotics, it’s the grunt of Amazon. Not only is the company owned by the world’s richest man, but Amazon isn’t averse to making a loss on expensive products to push mass-adoption. There’s a reason there’s a Kindle in every bag, and an Echo on plenty of shelves, and if Amazon can absorb the high cost of an Alexa-powered robot just to prove the concept (and push Prime subscriptions), then the improvements to functionality could come thick and fast.
But then again, it could equally be another Fire Phone.