Though it wasn’t technically available to buy in 2021, Amazon revealed its tiny, privacy-abolishing robot Astro this year, so it still counts. More or less an Alexa on wheels with cute eyebrows, Astro presented us with an answer to a question we didn’t remember asking: “What if Wall-E were real, evil, and knew how to beatbox?”
Priced at a cool $1,500—$1,000 for members of Amazon’s Day 1 editions program—Astro is billed and advertised as a domestic assistant. And like any good assistant, Astro gets to work on day one by getting to know you, your house, and your family. The robot begins by “enrolling” the faces and voices of any member of your household who might conceivably give it a command, and then sets out to loosely map the terrain of your home so that it can scoot around without falling down a set of stairs.
Astro also comes fully equipped with what’s known as “Sentry” mode, which enables it to patrol your house for people or events that it doesn’t recognize. Have you seen this episode of Black Mirror before? If not, that’s OK: It’s happening right now, in real time.
For privacy-minded consumers, Amazon touts the fact that Astro is “designed to protect your privacy,” noting that the robot’s microphones, cameras, and sensors can be manually disabled, and that boundary zones can be set so that Astro knows where it’s not allowed to roam. But the reality is that Astro is just another creepy addition to our digital panopticon—an ever-watching, ever-roaming surveillance device that’s designed to memorize and analyze as much of your personal data as possible.