The resounding failure of the Fire Phone lurks again. This is at least what some Amazon employees seem to think about the company’s new big hardware project: a domestic robot called Vesta.
More than 800 Amazon employees are part of the development team of this robot that will consist of a screen, multiple cameras, and will have in the voice assistant Alexa its fundamental interface. Delays in its production and its dubious appeal to the public threaten its future, some employees say.
“We are worried that it could become another Fire Phone”
This is what they claim in Business Insider, where they have had access to internal documents in which they talk about the big bet that Amazon is making on this project, which is part of its Lab126 division.
That business unit is in charge of creating other devices such as the Kindle e-book reader, the smart speakers of the Echo family, or the Alexa voice assistant. They were also responsible for the development of the Fire Phone that Amazon launched in 2014 and which ended up being an absolute disaster.
This Amazon project, which has been at least three years in development – Bloomberg already talked about it in April 2018 – represents one of the most ambitious in recent times, but according to six people directly involved in the project, various delays and changes in strategy are causing doubts about the viability and potential success of Vesta. One of those employees indicated that “people are very skeptical, and we’re worried that it could turn into another Fire Phone.”
For now, something like “a tablet on wheels”
One of the Vesta prototypes is the size of “two small cats,” measuring about 25-30 cm across, and according to those sources the robot consists of multiple cameras, a screen, and a microphone. One of those employees described it as “a Fire tablet on wheels” that is capable of moving around the house using voice commands.
The basic idea would approximate that joking post (which in the end had little in the way of a joke) that Jeff Bezos made on his Instagram account two years ago. In that post, he showed an Echo speaker taped to a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner.
For Amazon’s employees involved in the project, the doubts are notable because some believe that the interest that the device will generate will be small and will only attract a small child of users, something that would not compensate for the enormous effort being made to develop it.
Amazon seems to be considering ideas such as offering Vesta as a mobile videoconferencing solution that allows us to move around the house while attending a meeting or virtual chat. They are also considering options such as air quality or humidity sensors and even a compartment to carry objects from one place to another.
Estimates of the sales that Vesta would drive are initially low: its price will be high compared to other devices in the Echo family, for example.
The company appears to be considering a strategy in which Amazon launches it as an invitation-only product, as they did with their Halo fitness wristband. That would avoid ending up with a large number of unsold devices, something that happened with the Fire Phone.
Production has been moved from China to Mexico to try to cut costs, but it seems that this has also led to quality and training problems for assembly line employees, which has further delayed this potential launch, which in any case could be canceled and not see the light of day.
Even so, Amazon already has more than a hundred people being trained to provide technical support to future Vesta users, which suggests that Vesta will be launched in the short term.
Amazon certainly has experience in this area. Its Amazon Robotics division is responsible for the creation of these amazing robots that operate autonomously in its warehouses and allow orders to be managed efficiently.