Astro: how the robot worksAmazon ?

At the start of the week, we introduced you Amazon Astro, the first domestic robot capable of following you on your travels and patrolling your house in your absence. A major innovation which, as you can imagine, has not been an easy task for engineers atAmazon who explained to us a little how the robot works Alexa… In general terms, of course, that we will summarize for you here.

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Amazon Astro: the first domestic robot with Alexa !

Amazon Astro: a domestic robot full of technology

David Limp the senior vice president ofAmazon Devices & Services, unveiled Tuesday at a virtual event, a new range of devices including Amazon Astro, a robot with Alexa. Developed in the secret of Lab126Amazon for years, this robot, which the specialized press has regularly echoed under the name of Vesta project was not easy to design, although the world leader in e-commerce has extensive experience in industrial robotics.

An area where it is possible to predefine maps of the environments that robots will encounter, factories and warehouses being predictable places. But everything is ultimately much more complex in a house where things are much more likely to change. Furniture and personal effects are regularly moved there, people and pets are on the move, the light is variable… These events can prove to be problematic for a robot, especially if we want to make it affordable.

Indeed, if it is conceivable to use sensors worth several thousand euros on an industrial robot, this is simply not possible when one wishes to market a consumer device at a decent price.

To propose a home robot for only $ 1499,99, the scientists ofAmazon therefore had to find solutions and use more affordable sensors that have been found, in particular, on our robot vacuum cleaners.

3D perception and mapping

Like robot vacuum cleaners, Amazon Astro uses many sensors for its control systems simultaneous mapping and localization (SLAM) which allow it to move while avoiding obstacles. These navigation sensors allow it to define key landmarks in the space in which it operates: walls and stairs, table corners, door frames, etc.

Astro can then determine where it is in relation to these landmarks on a 3D mapping detail that it constantly updates as it moves around the house, calculating its distance from obstacles it will encounter such as sofas, chairs and walls. Its SLAM algorithm will then plan its path, make decisions quickly and autonomously. A technology thatAmazon Nomme IntelligentMotion.

Intelligent Motion will generate several hundred potential paths per second, evaluate each of them in real time, then determine how the robot must move, taking into account changes in the environment and the probability of encountering obstacles such as a bag lying around, a book fallen on the ground, etc. .

Astro uses body language and communicates his intentions

You may have noticed it on his presentation video, Astro is able to follow a person and adapt to his speed of movement, but also to his trajectories. To do this, Amazon had to work on thehuman-robot interaction (Human-Robot Interactions in English, H.R.I.). In order to develop robots having the capacity to collaborate but also to "live" in contact with humans, researchers have been active in developing learning algorithms allowing their device to move gracefully. The more a robot has a humanoid aspect, the easier it will be for a man to accept his company.

Both humans and pets do indeed report how they plan to move with unconscious signals like a slight turn of the head, a different shoulder position, or a change in the direction of the eyes. Astro does the same by adopting predictable behaviors, such as signaling his intentions through body language. So he's going to tilt his head / screen, move his eyes and change posture as we tilt our shoulders. This allows humans that we are to understand where it is going, in which direction it is going to turn, or even to whom it is addressed.

A human allure

Thanks to its calculation speed, Amazon Astro could move at high speed without hitting walls, but there would be something scary about it for the humans that we are. This is why the engineers chose to make him adopt human speeds, which he is able to adapt according to the person who asks him to follow him, while respecting a appropriate social distance.

Well known in psychology where we speak of proxemics, this social distance is generally estimated between 1,20 and 3,70 meters depending on the person and the culture. For an American, it will indeed be more important than for a French. Likewise, she will be weaker in an intimate relationship than in a simply friendly one.

In the case of Astro, when he approaches someone, his technology Intelligent Motion will use vision signals by computer such as the person's approximate position and the direction in which they are looking. Thanks to its sensors and its mapping, the nice little robot will then plan a fluid and graceful path allowing it to be placed in the user's field of vision at a socially appropriate distance.

Intelligent Motion also allows the robot to follow a comfortable walking pace for an adult and to estimate where that person is going. Astro is indeed able to differentiate an obstacle from a person and follow it instead of avoiding it, even as it enters and leaves its field of vision. This approach involves both the recognition and dynamic tracking of obstacles, path planning, proxemics and human-robot interaction. Suffice to say that the exercise is complex and that the robot may not be infallible ...

Amazon recognizes that, despite its very important analytical skills, Astro will necessarily encounter difficult situations. " We know from our internal testing that people don't mind helping Astro occasionally, although we've also learned that people have limited patience for a robot that gives up too often and always asks for help. »The robot can therefore occasionally to call for help its owners, but also incorporates a set of recovery behaviors allowing it to do without human intervention.

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What about confidentiality in all of this?

Well, rest assured, Astro's intelligence does not evolve in the cloud like that ofAlexa because it requires a very fast system, making it necessary to process data locally. The raw data from the navigation and obstacle sensors are therefore processed locally. Amazon has also announced that orders Alexa locally will also soon be available on Amazon Echo.

The robot will nevertheless rely on the cloud to keep a 2D map with information such as the location of walls, rooms, boundaries, furniture and objects, as well as related data like room names provided by the customer on the app Amazon Astro. Nothing different from what we know about our vacuum cleaners, except that the map data will be encrypted and stored securely with 256-bit keys… This is far from always being the case for our vacuum cleaners.

Fascinated by Alexa since the day I received it in beta test, I gradually became passionate about the subject, before deciding to go further by creating a site with Jean-Christophe. An activity that allows me to quench my thirst for new technologies and share my discoveries about the nicest of communities: Les Alexiens.