Amazon is bricking $2,350 Astro robots 10 months after release


Amazon Astro for business

Amazon

Amazon is bricking all Astro for Business robots on September 25. It first released the robot about eight months ago as a security device for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) for $2,350, but the device will soon be a pricey new addition to Amazon’s failed products list.

Amazon announced Astro in September 2021 as a home robot; that version of the device is still only available as a $1,600, invite-only preview.

In November, Amazon pivoted Astro to SMBs. But as first reported by GeekWire, Amazon on Wednesday sent emails to employees working on Astro for Business and customers telling them that the devices will stop working on September 25. At the time, Amazon’s email to customers said: “Your personal data will be deleted from the device. Any patrol or investigation videos recorded by Astro will still be available in your Ring app until your video storage time expires or your Ring Protect subscription ends.” According to The Verge, the email adds:

While we are proud of what we’ve built, we’ve made the decision to end support for Astro for Business to put our focus on making Astro the best robot for the home.

As of this week, Amazon will no longer charge users for subscriptions associated with Astro for Business, such as Astro Secure, which let the robot patrol businesses via customized routes, or Ring Protect Pro, which let Astro for Business owners store video history and sync the robot with Ring devices.

Amazon said it would refund customers $2,350 and give them a $300 Amazon credit. It also said it would refund unused, prepaid subscription fees.

Amazon has declined to share how many robots it sold, but it’s unfortunate to see such an expensive, complex piece of technology become obsolete after less than a year. Amazon hasn’t shared any ways to make further use of the devices, and spokesperson Courtney Ramirez told The Verge that Astro for Business can’t be used as a home robot instead. Amazon’s email to customers encourages owners to recycle Astro for Business through the Amazon Recycling Program, with Amazon covering associated costs.

Astro slow to take off

Amazon introduced Astro in late 2021, but as of 2024, it’s still not available to the general public. When Amazon released Astro for SMBs, it seemed like it might have found a new niche for the product. A May 2023 report from Business Insider claimed that Amazon opted to release Astro for Business over “an internal plan to release a lower-cost model” in 2022 for consumers.

Astro for Business could autonomously patrol spaces up to 5,000 square feet with an HD periscope and night vision, it could carry small devices, and, of course, was controllable by Amazon Alexa. Since its release, we’ve learned about Alexa’s dire financial straits and seen David Limp, who headed the Astro project as Amazon SVP of devices and services, exit Amazon, while his division has suffered notable layoffs (an Amazon rep told GeekWire that the shuttering of Astro for Business won’t result in layoffs as employees will start working on the home version of the robot instead).

Astro’s future

Per Amazon’s emails, the company is still keen to release the home version of Astro, which may surprise some since there has been no sign of an impending release since Amazon announced Astro years ago.

In May 2023, an Amazon representative told Insider that the firm had eyes on the potential of generative AI for Astro. It’s likely that Amazon is hoping to one day release Astro to consumers with the generative AI version of Alexa (which is expected this year with a subscription fee). In May 2023, Insider cited internal documents that it said discussed adding “intelligence and a conversational spoken interface” to Astro.

But considering that it has taken Amazon more than two and a half years (and counting) and reportedly the work of over 800 people to make Astro generally available, plus the sudden demise of the business version, there are reasons to be hesitant about paying the high price and any subscription fees for a consumer Astro—if it ever comes out. Early adopters could find themselves in similarly disappointing positions as the SMBs that bought into Astro for Business.

Astro’s development comes during a tumultuous time for Amazon’s devices business as it seeks to make Alexa a competitive and, critically, lucrative AI assistant. In June, Reuters reported that Amazon senior management had been telling employees that 2024 is a “must-win” for Alexa. Some analysts expect more reduced investment in Alexa if the paid tier doesn’t take off.

Amazon’s Astro home robot faces an uphill climb toward any potential release or consumer demand. Meanwhile, the version of it that actually made it to market is rolling toward a graveyard filled with other dead Amazon products—like Just Walk Out, Amazon Glow, Fire Phone, Dash buttons, and the Amazon Smart Oven.



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