While Amazon’s Alexa successfully infiltrated homes via Echo devices over the past few years, the company reportedly continues to look for new ways that it can make homes smarter. According to a Bloomberg report, Amazon is secretly developing a “domestic robot” that may be a portable home for its virtual assistant.
The project is codenamed “Vesta” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home, and family. According to people familiar with the plans, Vesta is being led by Gregg Zehr, the head of Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division. That same group developed devices, including the popular Echo smart speakers, Fire TV set-top boxes, and Fire tablets.
While the project has reportedly been in the works for years, Amazon appears to be hiring more employees for Lab126 to focus on robotics. There are a number of new robotics-related job listings on the Lab126 website, including one for an Applied Robotics Scientist position. However, most other listings now produce a 404 error page when clicked.
Despite the purported hiring surge, Bloomberg‘s sources speculate that Amazon may begin testing robots in employees’ homes as early as the end of this year. Consumers may see the finished product in 2019, although the project’s timeline could be pushed back before then or even scrapped entirely.
The robot’s features are currently unknown. It could end up being a mobile home for Alexa, allowing users to take advantage of the virtual assistant when in rooms that don’t have an Echo speaker or other Alexa-toting device. Reportedly the robot prototypes have “advanced cameras and computer vision software” that allow it to “navigate through homes like a self-driving car.” If true, that nods at the latest technology used in high-end iRobot Roombas that map your home using sensors and cameras, allowing one to clean more easily by knowing where furniture is and avoiding it.
iRobot is one of the leaders of the home robot market, largely because its devices are meant to do one thing—clean your home. Some robots like LG’s CLOi and Sony’s Aibo puppy robot have yet to take off, likely due to their ambiguous nature and high price tags (the Aibo pooch costs a whopping $1,739).
While Amazon has an advantage over other companies thanks to the success of Alexa, any future home robots it debuts may not be able to ride that success alone. Echo speakers always listen for their wake words (as do other virtual assistants including Siri and Google Assistant), and some users understandably don’t want a device in their home that’s constantly listening to them. Adding cameras and other sensors may concern users even more as it could make it possible for Amazon to see into your home.
No official details have been provided about the features an Amazon robot could have. However, if Amazon follows its typical hardware-creation manual, any robot it comes out with will facilitate shopping on Amazon.com in some way. Echo devices allow users to search for products and place orders using only their voice; the Echo Look captures fashion photos and suggests clothing from Amazon that you may like based on your personal style; and even Kindles have special on-screen advertisements for books that you can purchase for Amazon’s e-reader quickly and easily.
Ars has reached out to Amazon for further comment.