Can generative AI finally bring us Rosie the Robot?

As a smart home critic of a certain age, all I’ve ever wanted for my home is a Rosie the Robot. The JetsonsThe Mechanical Housekeeper was the example I held up to Amazon’s Astro when I tested the company’s first home robot and, unsurprisingly, it flopped. Not just because she didn’t have arms, but because she really couldn’t do anything.

Now according to internal Amazon documents viewed by Well-informed person, the company believes it has found the keys to unlock Astro’s potential. Burnham is a secret new AI robot project being developed by Amazon that documents say adds a layer of “intelligence and a conversational spoken interface” to a smart home robot, reports Well-informed person.

An improved Astro powered by Burnham could use large language models and other advanced AI to become a home robot that understands the context of a busy home and responds appropriately. According Well-informed personthe documents state that the technology “remembers what it saw and understood” and the robot can “engage in a question-and-answer dialogue about what it saw” and use LLM-powered AI to act accordingly.

For example, the documents describe an Astro product Burnham uses as being able to find a stove on or a running faucet and track its owner to alert them. You could check on someone who has fallen and call 911 if it is an emergency. According to the documents, he could help find their keys, check to see if a window was left open overnight and monitor whether the children had any after-school friends. These are all things you can do to some degree with existing smart home technology, but they require multiple steps, devices, and actions, rather than one: Astro.

However, what is most interesting is that Amazon seems to be exploring starting more complex tasks. An example given was a robot that sees broken glass on the floor, knows that it presents a danger, and prioritizes sweeping it up before someone steps on it; essentially, it detects problems and potentially solves them.

This “contextual understanding,” as Amazon describes the technology in the documents, is its “latest and most advanced artificial intelligence technology designed to make robots smarter, more useful, and more conversational.” So basically Rosie the Robot (but without the arms).

However, Burnham won’t be coming to a robot near you any time soon. Amazon acknowledges in the documents that it still has a long way to go before Burnham can be incorporated into a product. You also can’t buy the current, not-so-smart Astro without an invite, it’s the price just went up to $1,600and Well-informed person notes that Amazon scrapped plans to release a cheaper version.

Even amid the rapid adoption of generative AI by tech companies like Amazon, a home robot as capable as Rosie remains just a sci-fi character. Although Amazon’s statement in a document, “Our robot has a strong body. What we need next is a brain,” makes me think twice about how badly I really want an AI-powered intelligent robot roaming my house.


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