Leaked documents reveal Amazon has a new generative AI technology called Burnham that could make its Astro home robot a whole lot smarter.
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As a smart home reviewer of a certain age, all I’ve ever wanted for my home is a Rosie the Robot. The Jetsons’ mechanical housekeeper was the example I held Amazon’s Astro to when I tested the company’s first home robot — and it unsurprisingly failed. Not just because it had no arms, but because it couldn’t really do anything.
Now, according to internal documents from Amazon seen by Insider, the company thinks it has found the keys to unlock Astro’s potential. Burnham is a secret new AI robot project Amazon is developing that, according to the documents, adds a layer of “intelligence and a conversational spoken interface” to a smart home robot, reports Insider.
An upgraded 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 household and responds appropriately. According to Insider, the documents indicate that the technology “remembers what it saw and understood” and the robot can then “engage in a Q&A dialogue on what it saw” and use AI powered by LLMs to act on it.
For example, the documents describe an Astro product using Burnham as able to find a stove left burning or a faucet left running and track down its owner to alert them. It could check on someone who has fallen and call 911 if it’s an emergency. It could help find your keys, check if a window was left open overnight, and monitor whether kids had friends over after school, according to the documents. These are all things you can do to some extent with existing smart home tech, but they require multiple steps, devices, and actions, as opposed to one — Astro.
Most interestingly, though, Amazon appears to be exploring initiating more complex tasks. An example given was a robot that sees broken glass on the floor, knows that it presents a hazard, and prioritizes sweeping it up before someone steps on it — essentially, spot problems and potentially solve them.
This “Contextual Understanding,” as Amazon describes the tech in the documents, is its “latest and most advanced AI technology designed to make robots more intelligent, more useful, and more conversational.” So, basically, Rosie the Robot (but without the arms).
However, Burnham isn’t coming to a robot near you anytime soon. Amazon acknowledges in the documents that it still has a long way to go before Burnham can be put into a product. You also still can’t buy the current, not-so-smart Astro without an invite, its price just went up to $1,600, and Insider notes 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 is still just a character in science fiction. Although Amazon’s statement in one document, “Our robot has a strong body. What we need next is a brain,” makes me think twice about how much I really want an intelligent, AI-powered robot roaming around my home.