Amazon says fully automated shipping warehouses are at least a decade away

Amazon says fully automated shipping warehouses are at least a decade away

The future of Amazon’s logistics network will undoubtedly involve artificial intelligence and robotics, but it’s an open question at what point AI-powered machines will be doing a majority of the work. According to Scott Anderson, the company’s director of robotics fulfillment, the point at which an Amazon warehouse is fully, end-to-end automated is at least 10 years away. Anderson’s comments, reported today by Reuters, highlight the current pace of automation, even in environments that are ripe for robotic labor, like an Amazon warehouse.

As it stands today, robots in the workforce are proficient mostly at specific, repeatable tasks for which they are precisely programmed. To get the robot to do something else takes expensive, time-consuming reprogramming. And robots that can perform multiple different tasks and operate in dynamic environments that require the robot see and understand its surroundings are still firmly in the realm of research and experimental trials. Even the simple process of identifying an object and picking it up without having been trained on that object before requires a series of complex, sophisticated software and hardware that does not yet exist in commercial fashion.

So while a robot can help manufacture a microchip and the body of a Tesla motor vehicle, it’s not capable of doing human tasks that warehouse work requires. At Amazon facilities and other companies’ fulfillment centers, a bulk of the labor is still largely done by human hands, because it’s difficult to train robots to see the world and use robotic grippers with the dexterity of human workers.

But as part of the ongoing deep learning revolution that’s accelerated the progress of AI research over the last decade, robots are starting to gain levels of vision and motor control that are approaching human-levels of sophistication. Amazon is one of the companies pioneering such robots, and it’s held an annual so-called picking challenge, after the warehouse term from picking up one object to move it to another part of the logistics chain, to promote advances in the field.

A number of other companies and research labs have been making progress on that front, too. UC Berkeley has a robotics lab that’s made substantial progress in the field, and its new low-cost robot, a pair of humanoid arms controlled by a central system called Blue, can perform complex manual tasks like the folding of a towel thanks to an AI-powered vision system. Research lab OpenAI has similarly been using an AI training technique known as reinforcement learning to teach a robotic hand more precise and elegant movements, the types of motion that would be required of a robot to replicate a human in a warehouse. Kindred, a San Francisco-based startup, makes a robotic arm called Kindred Sort that it’s deployed in warehouses for the retailer Gap that uses a mix of human piloting and automation to perform dynamic product picking.


Blue is capable of complex tasks like folding a towel.
Image: UC Berkeley

According to Reuters, Amazon has 110 warehouses in the US, 45 sorting centers, and roughly 50 delivery stations, all of which employ more than 125,000 full-time warehouse workers. But only a fraction of the overall labor is performed by robots. Right now, robots are simply too imprecise and clumsy and require too much training to be deployed on factory floors outside very narrow use cases.

For instance, Amazon uses small, Roomba-shaped robots simply called “drives” mostly to deliver large stacks of products to human workers, by following set paths around the warehouse. “In the current form, the technology is very limited. The technology is very far from the fully automated workstation that we would need,” Anderson told Reuters, which toured an Amazon warehouse in Baltimore earlier today.

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Amazon to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites to help people who don’t have access to high speed internet

Amazon to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites to help people who don’t have access to high speed internet
  • Amazon is planning to launch a constellation of more than 3,000 satellites into orbit to improve global internet access.
  • The plan is codenamed “Project Kuiper” and could cost billions of dollars, according to GeekWire.
  • The United Nations estimates that half the world’s population will still not have access to the internet even by the end of 2019.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon is planning to launch a constellation of 3,236 satellites into orbit around Earth to increase access to high-speed broadband.

The ambitious project, codenamed “Project Kuiper,” was spotted by GeekWire in numerous public filings from the Washington, DC-based Kuiper Systems LLC.

GeekWire estimated that the project could cost billions of dollars and put Amazon into competition with firms like SpaceX, which is planning its own satellite internet service.

Amazon confirmed its plans in a statement to Business Insider. “Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world,” a spokeswoman said.

“This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision.”

Read more: Facebook and Google unveil new efforts to tap into the ‘unconnected’ population

The United Nations estimates that half the world’s population will still not have access to the internet even by the end of 2019. In January 2018, the UN outlined a series of targets that, if met, would drastically improve worldwide internet access by 2025.

In 2010, a worldwide BCC poll of more than 27,000 internet users and nonusers found that nearly four in five believed internet access was their fundamental right.

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Amazon again slashes Whole Foods prices, doubles Prime member weekly deals

Amazon again slashes Whole Foods prices, doubles Prime member weekly deals

Amazon-owned Whole Foods announced a third round of price cuts that will see the grocer discounting hundreds of items, offering an average savings of 20 percent. Produce is an area of specific focus in this wave of price cuts, with lowered prices on seasonal items including greens, tomatoes, tropical fruits and more. In addition, Amazon will expand its Prime benefits offered to Whole Foods shoppers with a larger selection of weekly deals, the company says.

Lowering prices at Whole Foods was one of the first major changes Amazon introduced following its $13.7 billion acquisition of the grocery chain in 2017. Almost immediately, discounts were put into place, ranging from 6 percent on the low-end to as much as nearly 30 percent, in some cases. Last year, Amazon also introduced 10 percent savings for Prime members shopping at Whole Foods across the U.S. — including for its delivery services, where available.

Through previous rounds of price cuts and Prime member deals, Whole Foods says customers have saved “hundreds of millions” of dollars since the chain’s merger with Amazon.

Today, the retailer says it will again lower prices storewide, with a focus on produce. Some of the new savings include large yellow mangoes for $1 each; mixed-medley cherry tomatoes for $3.49 per 12 oz. and organic bunched rainbow chard at $1.99 each. The WSJ reports more than 500 products have seen price cuts, and are the broadest cuts to date.

In addition, Whole Foods will double the number of exclusive weekly Prime Member deals and discounts.

Over the next few months, Prime members shopping the store will be able to take advantage of more than 300 Prime member deals on the season’s most popular items, the company notes. This includes, in April, discounts on things like organic asparagus and strawberries, antibiotics-free chicken, sliced ham, wild-caught halibut, Justin’s brand products, prepared sandwiches and wraps and more. Every week, up to 20 deals are available to Prime members.

In some cases, these new discounts for Prime shoppers as high as 35 to 40 percent.

Prime members also save the usual 10 percent on hundreds of other sale items.

“When Whole Foods Market joined the Amazon family, we set out to make healthy and organic food more accessible. Over the last year, we’ve been working together tirelessly to pass on savings to customers,” said Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, in a statement about the new cuts. “Every time a customer walks into a Whole Foods Market, they expect and trust industry-leading quality standards across aisles. And now they will experience that same Whole Foods Market quality with even more savings across departments.”

To kick off the new price cuts and encourage foot traffic in-store, customers who try Prime will get $10 off their $20 purchase for signing up for a membership. Membership includes Whole Foods’ weekly deals, free grocery pickup, free grocery delivery on orders over $35, Alexa shopping and all the other Prime perks on Amazon.com.

The move to cut prices comes at a time when Walmart and Amazon are battling for grocery customers, with the former leveraging its existing brick-and-mortar footprint for free pickups, as well as its reputation as a low price leader. Unlike grocery delivery services such as Instacart or Target’s Shipt, Walmart’s groceries cost the same to pickup or deliver as they are in-store. (Target is now offering the same deal on Shipt, but only for Target items — not those delivered by other stores, which are still marked up.)

Walmart is also countering Amazon Alexa’s shopping features through a deal with Google, which now offers voice-activated shopping through Google Assistant, announced today.

To cater to grocery shoppers, Amazon is leaning more on its Prime membership program to entice customers used to the convenience of near-instant gratification and fast delivery. Whole Foods Market groceries ordered through Prime Now can arrive in two hours in more than 60 metros, with more cities on the way. And grocery pickup is offered in 30 minutes at some Whole Foods locations.

Whole Foods isn’t Amazon’s only angle on food shopping: Amazon is also reportedly looking into retail space to open its own U.S. grocery chain separate from Whole Foods, and runs a handful of cashierless Amazon Go convenience stores.

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Amazon has the unlocked Moto Z3 Play down to as low as $340 today

Amazon has the unlocked Moto Z3 Play down to as low as $340 today

Right now you can pick up the Prime-exclusive Moto Z3 Play at Amazon for just $339.99 — $60 off its most recent price and the lowest it’s ever been. If you don’t want to deal with a few of Amazon’s apps, you can opt for the regular unlocked version for $349.99, which is $150 less than it regularly sells for. It offers a 6-inch Super AMOLED display, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage, and is powered by a Snapdragon 636.

On the back is a nice dual-camera setup, and you can use your existing Moto Mods to bring even more features and functionality to the device. We took a look at the Z3 Play and concluded that while it may not be for everyone, it’s a great device for the money. At the time of review, the phone cost nearly $150 more than it does right now, as well. With the lowered price, it’s definitely something worth recommending.

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Amazon is reportedly planning a new, low-cost grocery chain

Amazon is reportedly planning a new, low-cost grocery chain

It may look to grow its planned business by snapping up regional grocery chains, while it’s said to be in talks for locations in San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The report suggests the as-yet-unnamed brand will offer a wider selection of products than Whole Foods, which doesn’t carry goods with artificial preservatives, flavors or sweeteners, for instance. The stores could offer lower-cost shopping than Whole Foods too.

Amazon already has a grocery delivery service, and the reported chain would expand its retail footprint beyond Whole Foods, 4-Star stores and self-service Amazon Go outlets. It’s not clear whether the planned stores will also be cashierless, though the report suggests they’ll have a strong focus on customer service and pick-up options.

At around 35,000 square feet, the grocery stores are likely to be a little over half the size of a regular supermarket. Amazon could place them in open-air shopping centers as well as strip malls, though it wants no restrictions on what it can sell. The WSJ notes shopping center leases often prohibit stores from selling certain goods so they don’t compete too heavily with each other. We’ve seen recently that Amazon is willing to take its ball and go home if it doesn’t get its way, having dropped plans to build a second headquarters in New York following blowback from residents and officials.

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