Retail giant Amazon is behind some revolutionary technological projects that have played a considerable role in transforming human lives. In fact, a decade ago, the company unveiled the Kindle, which helped to promote the appeal of using digital devices to read. Aside from that, Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder and CEO, launched Echo four years ago, which has allowed millions of people to start interacting with computers. Currently, Amazon is said to be working on its next big project, robots for the home.
According to sources well-conversant with Amazon’s plans, retail company has started working on a confidential and ambitious project to create domestic robots. Gregg Zehr is the man tasked to head the project, codenamed Vesta. The name is drawn from the Roman goddess of home, health, and family. Gregg is well-known for running Amazon’s Lab126 research and development section located in Sunnyvale, California. This division is behind the creation of some of the groundbreaking devices from Amazon including, Fire TV set-top-boxes, the ill-fated Fire Phone, Echo speakers and Fire tablets.
Although the Vesta project began a few years back, Amazon started ramping up recruitment efforts this year. As such, the Lab126 jobs page features dozens of job listings for various vacancies such as principle sensors engineer, robotics and software engineer. Sources familiar with Amazon’s plan said the company is looking forward to starting seeding the developed robots in employees’ homes by the close of this year. Customers may get such robots early in 2019 even though the timeline could change. Worst case scenario, most of Amazon’s hardware projects are discontinued at times during their early stages.
Sources speculate that the Amazon robot could be some kind of mobile Alexa that would accompany consumers in areas of the home that lack Echo devices. Vesta prototypes have computer vision, state-of-the-art cameras and can move around homes like a self-driving vehicle. Max Parley, a former Apple executive, is heading the computer vision work. Additionally, the giant online retailer has recruited specialized mechanical engineers sourced from the robotics industry.
Vesta is entirely a different project from the robots already being designed by Amazon Robotics, a subsidiary company based in both Germany and Massachusetts. The company is behind the deployment of robots in all Amazon warehouses in a bid to move goods around. It was previously known as Kiva Systems before Amazon acquired it for $775 million in 2012.
The promise to create domestic robots that not only perform basic household chores but also provide companionship has teased the technology industry for many years. Various creations have emerged over the years including Nolan Bushnell’s three-foot-tall, Topo Robot that was created in 1983. It did not perform as expected. Subsequent attempts that have performed slightly better include Roomba from iRobot Corp, which specializes in vacuuming. The company has sold over 20 million units since 2002.
Tech companies including LG Electronics Inc. and Sony Corp. have also shown considerable interest in this space. The former displayed a robot dubbed CLOi in a demonstration that failed severally at CES in January while the latter demonstrated Aibo, a new version of a robotic dog, which does nothing more apart from barking.