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How To Buy Amazon Astro Robot

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Amazon.com Inc. debuted Astro, a household robot that was supposed to usher in—or at least hint at—a Jetsons-style future.

The three-wheeled robot rolled out on stage at the command of Amazon devices chief Dave Limp 53 minutes into a press conference otherwise focused on new Ring cameras, a thermostat, and a massive Echo speaker with a wall screen. With Astro watching, Limp listed the device’s features: advanced computer vision that tells the bot where it is, home monitoring, media playback, and the ability to summon emergency help for the elderly. Astro would eventually sell for around $1,450, but Limp said those who were lucky enough to get an invitation could get one for $1,000—roughly the price of an iPhone 13.

Henrik Christensen, a computer science and robotics professor at the University of California, San Diego, said in a video presentation of the unveiling, “Astro is a huge step forward.” ‘When should I get one?’ will be the next question. ’”

A better question would have been, “When can I get one?”

Astro is still hard to come by six months later. Nobody is talking about the robot, which is perplexing because early adopters are known to love sharing their experiences online. A search for Astro users on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram yielded only two results, both of whom posted brief videos of the bot. According to people familiar with the situation, Amazon has only shipped a few hundred Astros so far.

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It is owned by Matthew Nereim, a fifth-grade teacher and former high-school wrestling champion from the Orlando area. Nereim is a self-described Amazon fan who subscribes to Prime, buys almost all of the company’s gadgets, and has several Echo smart speakers strategically placed throughout his home.

“I was like, ‘Hell yeah, I have to have it,'” Nereim recalls after receiving an invite for the Astro. He received the device in December and is intrigued, but not convinced, that consumers will pay the official retail price. “Would I have bought it for $1,500?” Nereim stated. “No. But it was $1,000, and I was very excited about it. I thought I could afford $1,000, but I don’t think I need it.

While he doesn’t use the Astro as much as he would like, he does enjoy controlling it remotely from his phone and driving it up to his Labrador retriever, Cooper, and chatting with the dog from work. He also enjoys having Astro follow him around his house, playing music, responding to Alexa commands, and transporting a mixed drink in one of its onboard cup holders. “It’s like having your own R2-D2,” he said. “It’s hilarious to my friends and family.” “This thing follows you?” they say.

Nereim acknowledged Astro isn’t perfect. Navigation can be sluggish when controlled over a cellular network, the robot sometimes can’t locate its charging base, and it often gets stuck when approaching stairs—struggling to figure how to proceed without taking a tumble. Amazon is keen to hear such feedback so it can improve the product and sends users surveys, although Nereim hasn’t participated because doing so isn’t mandatory. 

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Amazon began working on a home robot in 2018, and that work intensified the following year. Hundreds of employees have now worked for four years on what the company refers to as a “Day 1 Edition device,” the primary goal of which is to generate customer feedback. It’s a tried and true strategy. Amazon announced a smart ring and glasses that worked with Alexa in 2019 and invited a small group of customers to test them out. The ring has been discontinued, but the glasses are still available as Echo Frames for $250 a pair, with a four-star rating based on approximately 3,000 reviews.

In response to questions about Astro, an Amazon spokesman said that “invite requests and customer orders have been significantly above our expectations.” He wouldn’t provide numbers but said shipments were in line with the company’s plans and would “continue to ramp over the coming weeks and months.” The spokesman said Amazon is receiving positive feedback and “learning a lot about how customers want to use a consumer robot.”

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Amazon expects Astro will eventually drop its “Day 1” status, but the spokesman said “it’s too early to say when that may happen.” The company is already talking up future models and sees Astro as “our first robot, not our last.”

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