We can talk about regulatory hurdles. We can talk about delivery zone issues. We can talk about cost and weight and range and reliability, about lawsuits and criminality. We should, when we’re talking about Amazon’s Prime Air, talk about all of those things. You know what we should also be talking about, though? Birds.
Read more. [Image: UMD Robotics screenshot via UPI]
After Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that his company wanted to deliver packages with small unmanned aerial vehicles, many people have questioned the viability and wisdom of the idea.
Yesterday, we got one optimistic perspective from Andreas Raptopoulos, an entrepreneur who founded Matternet, which is developing drone-delivery technology.
But there are many other ways to answer the questions that I posed to Raptopoulos. So, today, we bring you an interview with the University of Washington’s Ryan Calo, who has become a leading authority on the ethical and policy implications of emerging technologies. Specifically, he’s focused on the problems at the nexus of drones and privacy in recent months.
To offer the most intriguing parallels, I tried to keep my questions to Calo as similar to the ones as I posed to Raptopoulos as possible.
Two and a half years ago, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages. It’s starting with medical applications, with plans to extend from there to “bring to the world its next-generation transportation system.” To hear Raptopoulous tell it, when the histories are written in a few decades, people will think: electric grid, road infrastructure, telephone lines, Internet, mobile phones, and … tiny flying drones.
“We think about it not just as a point-to-point delivery, but as a network. What can you do if you have many stations of these flying drones?” Raptopoulous said. “What can you do with a system like this in the developing world, in our cities, in our megacities? We’re convinced that it’s going to be the next big paradigm in transportation.”
Of course, last night, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed Amazon Prime Air, his company’s plans to use drones at some point in the future to deliver packages to customers.
It all sounds a little crazy. And we can all think of many objections to drone delivery networks. They won’t have enough range! People will shoot them down! What if they crash! They can’t operate in places where you can’t get a steady GPS signal!
Given that Amazon seems unlikely to give real answers to these questions, I contacted Raptopoulos, who has spent the last several years deeply engaged with these problems since working on a project at Singularity University in 2011.
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If there’s a sentence that sums up Amazon, the weirdest major technology company in America, it’s one that came from its own CEO, Jeff Bezos, speaking at the Aspen Institute’s 2009 Annual Awards Dinner in New York City: “Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood.”
In other words: if you don’t yet get what I’m trying to build, keep waiting.
Four years later, Amazon’s annual revenue and stock price have both nearly tripled, but for many onlookers, the long wait for understanding continues. Bezos’s company has grown from its humble Seattle beginnings to become not only the largest bookstore in the history of the world, but also the world’s largest online retailer, the largest Web-hosting company in the world, the most serious competitor to Netflix in streaming video, the fourth-most-popular tablet maker, and a sprawling international network of fulfillment centers for merchants around the world. It is now rumored to be close to launching its own smartphone and television set-top box. The every-bookstore has become the store for everything, with the global ambition to become the store for everywhere.
Seriously: What is Amazon? A retail company? A media company? A logistics machine?
Read more. [Image: Ross D. Franklin/AP]
To win Olympic medals, a country needs lots of talent, the resources to train that talent, and the desire to spend those resources, as my colleague Matt O’Brien put it.
As host of the 2016 Olympics, Brazil has plenty of incentive to rake in as much Olympic gold as possible, and with almost 200 million people, it has quite the talent pool, too.
What’s more, the country has discovered that certain segments of its sizeable population come prepackaged with Olympic-worthy skills. Why train new Olympic archers, the thinking seems to be, when some Brazilians have already been shooting arrows since they were the size of a quiver?
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Paulo Whitaker]
CEO Jeff Bezos is a magician. At a time when investors scrutinize quarterly earnings reports with a microbiologist’s fussiness, Bezos has persuaded Wall Street to accept minuscule profits or worse in exchange for an ever-rising valuation. He’s done it by building a business that’s so grotesquely complicated and hard to duplicate that Wall Street essentially considers it a near monopoly.
And maybe it is a near monopoly. But as Bloomberg’s great piece on Amazon’s $14 billion warehouse spending spree points out, there are enemies on the banks of the moat. EBay has introduced same-day delivery in some cities. Wal-Mart has 4,700 stores in the U.S., which means its product is never more than a few miles away from hundreds of millions of American households. Meanwhile, upstart Instacart “guarantees delivery of goods in less than two hours … faster than Amazon’s new grocery business,” Danielle Kucera reports.
It’s easy to imagine that Amazon, the biggest online retailer at a time when e-commerce has doubled in four years, will eat the retail industry. But it’s unlikely that its software and constellation of fulfillment centers represents the final development in a turbulent century in retail innovation.
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The Amazon CEO now owns not only The Washington Post, but also El Tiempo Latino. And The Express. And The Gazette.
Remember. It’s not Amazon. It’s Bezos.
They call it “chaotic storage" for a reason. This photo shows a 1.2 million square foot Amazon fulfillment warehouse in Phoenix on November 26, 2012, also known as Cyber Monday, this year’s record breaking online shopping day. It’s a beautiful sea of stuff. Amazon sold over 17 million individual items last year on that day alone, notes ABC News’s Neal Karlinsky and Brandan Baur — and claims it will post bigger numbers this year.
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This morning, Washington United for Marriage announced a gift of “historic” proportions: $2.5 million from Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos, of Amazon fame and fortune, to go toward efforts to pass Referendum 74, which would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington, where the online retailer is based. With that one gift, the Bezoses have joined the ranks of the top financial backers of gay marriage in the country.
Why the sudden large check? The New York Times reports that the gift came as the result of a request from one of Amazon’s earliest employees, Jennifer Cast, a volunteer for Washington United for Marriage and a mother of four children she is raising with her longtime partner.
Read more. [Image: AP]