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Amazon said to be developing top-secret at-home robots

Amazon's autonomous warehouse robots. (YouTube)
April 25, 2018

Amazon hopes to introduce domestic robots into the homes of millions, with advanced cameras and software that would allow them to travel autonomously and complete a myriad of tasks,Bloomberg reported this week.

The top-secret project, codenamed “Vesta” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, has reportedly been in the works for years and may launch as early as 2019.

The project is currently run by Gregg Zehr who heads Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division based in Sunnyvale, California. The division is also responsible for other Amazon devices like the line of Echo smart speakers, Fire TV and Fire tablets.

The company inadvertently contributed to rumors about the project with a number of new listings under the Lab126 Jobs page for positions such as “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.”

Individuals familiar with the project said that test robots could be implemented into employees’ homes by the end year, though they stressed that many Amazon projects often never see the light of day.

While it is unclear what kinds of capabilities the Vesta robot might possess, sources told Bloomberg that the robot may end up being a mobile Alexa device that accompanies customers throughout their home. The robot may also be able to complete simple chores or tasks. Prototypes of the robot have been built with computer vision software that allow it to navigate through the home similar to a self-driving car.

Amazon has long been familiar with autonomous robots, with Amazon Robotics, a company subsidiary based in Massachusetts and Germany, having deployed the Amazon warehouse robots that move and sort goods.

While Amazon warehouse robots have proved successful, the idea of a consumer robot for the home has primarily been the work of science fiction except for a small number of proof-of-concept projects.

Back in 1983, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell revealed his 3-foot-tall, snowman-shaped Topo Robot that was programmable by the user, but sold only 120 units. Sony and LG also often show off robots and other projects at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. This year, Sony demonstrated its updated version of Aibo, a robot dog that costs $1,800 and does little beyond barking.