Amazon.com is reportedly working on an an ambitious, top-secret plan to build domestic robots. According to a report in Bloomberg, the project is code named “Vesta,” after the Roman goddess of the hearth, home and family, and is being overseen by Gregg Zehr, who runs Amazon’s Lab126 hardware research and development division. Lab126 is responsible for Amazon devices such as Echo speakers, Fire TV set-top-boxes, Fire tablets and the ill-fated Fire Phone. The Vesta project originated a few years ago, but this year Amazon began to aggressively ramp up hiring, according to Bloomberg, which reported that there are dozens of listings on the Lab126 jobs page for openings like “Software Engineer, Robotics” and “Principle Sensors Engineer.” People briefed on the plan say Amazon hopes to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of this year, and potentially with consumers as early as 2019, though the timeline could change. Furthermore, Amazon hardware projects are sometimes killed during gestation. An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg the company doesn’t comment on “rumors and speculation.”
Total Retail's Take: The promise of domestic robots that offer companionship or perform basic chores has tantalized the technology industry for decades. However, it's not clear from the report what tasks an Amazon robot might perform. People familiar with the project speculate that the Vesta robot could be a sort of mobile Alexa, accompanying customers in parts of their home where they don’t have Echo devices. Prototypes of the robots reportedly also have advanced cameras and computer vision software, so they can navigate through homes like self-driving cars. Domestic robots in the past haven't fared all that well, however. In January at CES, LG Electronics Inc. showed off a robot called Cloi in a demonstration that failed multiple times. However, advances in computer vision technology, cameras, artificial intelligence and voice activation help make it feasible for Amazon to bring its robot to market.