Amazon’s new smart home tech includes some eye openers

3 October 2021

Amazon unveiled some interesting new smart home technology at its fall product event this week, including a new robot. I’d imagine this is no accident ahead of the upcoming holiday shopping season.

I posted on Tuesday about Amazon’s first robot, Astro. It’s equipped with a rotating screen that’s mounted onto a base with wheels. Amazon designed the robot to appear animated and friendly, with eyes and expressive body movements that respond to user interaction.

Astro costs $999.99 and is a “Day 1 Edition” product, which means it won’t be sold to everyone at first. Instead, Amazon will ask people to sign up and then invite them to order the robot when it’s available. Amazon didn’t reveal a release date for the robot, but it said it will begin granting invitations later this year.

The robot can move on its own from room to room and is capable of navigating around objects on the floor or braking to avoid colliding with obstacles such as a pet that moves into its path. A periscope camera attached to the base of the device can be raised or lowered to view objects that are high up. It also can’t go up or down stairs, so it’s really only good for one floor of a house.

Astro is equipped with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. It can set and deliver reminders, serve up entertainment such as TV shows or sports scores, control smart home devices, respond to commands, among other tasks.

Another interesting aspect is its onboard ‘cargo compartment.’ It comes with a detachable cup holder and can carry other items (sold separately) like a Ziploc container, the OMRON blood pressure monitor, and a Furbo Dog Camera that tosses treats to your pet. The insert made by Omron can hold a blood pressure cuff. That will allow folks to control Astro remotely and remind people who live alone to check their blood pressure, which seems useful and opens Astro up to an audience outside of just gadget geeks who want a home robot.

The robot also has security and safety features. Through an integration with Amazon’s smart home security subsidiary Ring, Astro is capable of autonomously patrolling your home while you’re away or can be controlled through an app. It can flag potential intruders and listen for things such as broken glass or smoke alarms via a feature called Alexa Guard.

For those worried about privacy, Amazon said Astro’s camera, microphone and motion sensors can be switched off by pressing a button. Users can also designate “out of bounds zones,” or certain rooms that are off limits to the robot.

Following up on the idea of allowing you to remotely monitor, the Alexa Together subscription (coming soon) allows you to remotely care for aging loved ones, giving you peace of mind while helping them live independently. Set up reminders, manage shopping lists, receive activity alerts, and more. It includes an emergency hotline, fall detection and activity detection, all integrated and delivered through an Amazon Echo device.

Users will be able to receive a push notification when an elderly parent wakes up. Older users will also have around-the-clock access to a professional emergency helpline. All of this for $19.99 per month, and many users will be able to get a six-month trial.

I posted on Amazon’s Ring security drone after their 2020 fall product event, promising it in 2021. Well, it’s finally available to purchase but by invitation only. Interested customers can sign up to be invited to buy it. That’s a format Amazon typically uses for products it’s not ready to launch more broadly.

Called the “Always Home Cam,” it costs $249.99 and is an autonomous first-of-its-kind flying indoor security camera for your home that flies along custom flight paths so you can see what’s happening around your home no matter where you are. The camera displays 1440x1440 HD video, with a built-in LED that automatically lights up the path when recording at night or in dim environments. Always Home Cam’s camera never records when the device is docked and only records during trained flight paths.

Need to check if you left a window open or the stove on? You can create flight paths ahead of time so you can manually check in with the Ring App. If your Ring Alarm contact sensors or motion detectors are triggered, Always Home Cam will automatically fly to see what’s happening.

In addition to the drone, Amazon announced Ring Alarm Pro, a “base station” for Ring security devices that has an Eero router built in. It costs $249.99 and is available for preorder starting today.

As usual, Amazon also announced a new product aimed at kids. The Amazon Glow combines video calling with games coming from a projector. The aim is to make video calls more engaging for children. The projected graphics respond to touch.

Games such as “Tangram Bits” allow kids to solve puzzles on the projected surface while the parent videoconferences from a standard tablet. Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon and Sesame Street characters are signed up to make games for the device. Amazon said it would open it up to some outside developers next year.

For those concerned over children’s usage and privacy, the device has a “privacy shutter” that turns the camera off.

The Amazon Glow costs $249 but won’t be released widely at first, and ordering one will require an invitation. People can sign up to test it starting today, and Amazon will start shipping devices in “the coming weeks.”

Amazon also announced “Hey Disney,” which it calls a voice assistant that “works alongside” Alexa. It will integrate multiple Disney characters, including Mickey, Dory and Olaf with Alexa. The content includes jokes and trivia. Disney was able to customize Alexa technology to fit its own content and brand. “Hey Disney” will be available in the US from the Amazon Alexa skills store but not until 2022,.

Amazon Echos equipped with Disney content will also be placed inside Disney resort hotel rooms.

There’s also a new stand for the Echo Show that looks like Mickey Mouse. It’s made by Otterbox and will cost $24.99.

Amazon unveiled a new Echo device that can be mounted on a wall or placed anywhere around the home. It’s called the Echo Show 15.

Amazon has released other voice-activated smart displays through its Echo Show line, but this one has the largest screen yet at 15.6 inches. You can hang it on a wall either vertically or horizontally, similar to a photo frame.

Think of it as a kitchen TV, but much smarter. The Echo Show 15 can control smart-home devices such as Ring security cameras, lights or appliances. It can also show how-to videos or recipes.

Amazon designed widgets that can be added to the Echo Show 15′s display for things like digital sticky notes, to-do lists and other tools. Using a new feature called visual ID, Alexa can recognize different users and serve up personalized information such as calendar events. The feature is optional, and users have to enroll in the feature to use it.

The Echo Show 15 costs $249.99 and launches later this year.

Amazon has announced a competitor to Google’s Nest and Wyze Thermostat. Its new Smart Thermostat will cost $59.99, which is half the price of the average smart thermostat sold on Amazon.

I’m particularly interested in the price point as it costs less than the Wyze Thermostat, which personally I like and have installed for family and friends. I’ve used the Ecobee in the past, really liked and was planning on installing in our new home, but I’m going to take a closer look at the Amazon offering.

It’s part of a partnership with Resideo, the makers of Honeywell Home thermostats, and some customers should be able to get energy rebates, bringing down the price even further. After purchase, Amazon will send you an email with details about rebates that may be available from energy providers in your area. Explore rebates above. It’s a DIY install but does require a C-wire, unlike the Ecobee which includes an adapter if the C-wire is absent.

The Amazon Smart Thermostat is ENERGY STAR certified — meaning it’s required to save an average of $50 on yearly energy bills. It also works with Alexa as you’d expect to allow you you to voice control the temperature, or set it yourself from anywhere with the Alexa app. You can also set routines where you can say, “Alexa, good night,” and the thermostat will turn down the temperature.

As you can see, With these new products, Amazon continues to expand and innovate in smart home. I’m not sure I’m going to run out and buy an Astro, especially at $1,000. I simply don’t need a robot to follow me around the house just yet. But I do like the Amazon Together program as I’ve had friends install cameras in the homes of their parents due to age or health concerns. So a robot may be in our future to help our kids keep an eye on Debbie and I down the line.

I’m really liking the Amazon Glow as I can see Debbie getting them for all of our grandkids for video calls. Plus they can be used in between calls for playing educational games. I think it’s innovative in the way Amazon has adapted the projection technology for virtual keyboards to the desktop touch games.

On the home design front we are very close to finalizing the floor plan and exterior elevation. As you know, we’ve been following the price of wood closely this year and it’s been on a downward trend. Until now. In checking the trajectory of wood prices this week, unfortunately prices look to be going back up. This most likely is going to push our groundbreaking to next year but we’re keeping our fingers crossed. First order of business though is getting the floor plan finalized and starting conversations with builders. The price of wood will sort itself out one way or another.

Thanks again to all who have commented, DM’d and emailed regarding our project. We appreciate your suggestions and questions so please keep them coming. There have been a lot of good ideas we’ve incorporated into our plans. Until next week …

SmartHomeOnTheRange.com

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Seasoned professional sports information technology executive with a passion for out of the box solutions to complex challenges.