By John P. Mello Jr.
Apr 24, 2018 9:51 AM PT
Amazon plans to bring a home robot to market as early as 2019.
Codenamed "Vesta," after the Roman goddess of home and family, the project is several years old, but hiring for it recently has ramped up with an eye toward placing prototypes in employees' homes by the end of the year, Bloomberg reported Monday, citing people familiar with the plans.
The robot could be a mobile smart speaker, Bloomberg's sources speculated. Some versions of the product apparently have cameras and computer vision software that allow them to travel through a home like a self-driving car.
A homebot could be Amazon's way of boosting its position in the home technology market, where it already has a strong lineup of products.
"Amazon doesn't really have a strong position in mobile, so it has been doubling down in home technology," said Ross Rubin, principal analyst at Reticle Research.
A Better Alexa
A robot assistant would give Amazon a further edge over rivals such as Google in the connected home space, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research.
"Amazon Echo already has a lead over Google Home in terms of ownership, according to consumer surveys and market share data, and Amazon's Echo Show and Echo Dot enjoy a visual edge over Google Home devices," she told TechNewsWorld.
"We could see this product evolve the Alexa experience from one consisting of a virtual assistant into a physical assistant," Weinswig added.
What's more, Amazon's investments in artificial intelligence could come into play with a robotic product.
"Those investments could be leveraged very well with an advanced robot," Reticle's Rubin told TechNewsWorld.
"Alexa can provide a range of commands to objects in the home, but those objects can't fulfill tasks the way a robot can," he said. "It could sort groceries, answer the door, fetch a drink from the fridge, or fold the laundry."
An in-home robot would make the Alexa voice system an even more seamless experience, said Jack O'Leary, senior analyst at PlanetRetail RNG.
"Amazon wants Alexa to be ubiquitous, intertwined with as many aspects of the consumer's life as possible," he told TechNewsWorld. "A mobile robot equipped with Alexa capabilities will allow for total home coverage more easily to users, making it so they don't have to install and coordinate individual Alexa devices in every room."
Amazon's desire to be ubiquitous, though, may give some consumers pause. There might be resistance to letting a robotic extension of Amazon wander around their houses.
"The market has growing concerns around privacy with recent data scandals involving other tech companies." O'Leary cautioned.
"Alexa and related devices are an opt-in system where users engage with the platform to the level they are most comfortable with, which somewhat alleviates that concern," he continued.
"Despite this, I do think some people's concerns around what a device like this robot means for privacy and data collection in the home will be inhibiting to its adoption by some users," said O'Leary, "but definitely not enough to hold it back from success in the market."
Home robots have been around for decades but without much success. A notable exception is Roomba, by iRobot, which performs a single function: vacuuming. It has sold more than 20 million units since 2002.
iRobot's stock sank 8.6 percent after news broke of Amazon's robot plans, Bloomberg reported.
Robot vacuum cleaners represent a thin market sliver, according to Parks Associates. They can be found in just 5-6 percent of broadband households.
"It's not a breakout product, but it's far and ahead the most commonly adopted robotic assistant," Parks Research Analyst Dina Abdelrazik told TechNewsWorld.
However, at 11-12 percent, the number of broadband households that owned both a robot cleaner and a smart speaker was slightly higher than the number that owned a robot cleaner alone, Parks also found.
"There's definitely an overlap in the market there," Parks analyst Kristen Hanich told TechNewsWorld, "that Amazon may be going after."