Category Archives: amazon

Amazon Ends Drone Program In California

Amazon is shuttering its drone delivery operations in Lockeford, California, one of the earliest U.S. test sites for the decade-long project, CNBC reported.

The program, called Prime Air, has struggled to get off the ground since Amazon founder Jeff Bezos first detailed his vision in 2013 of autonomous drones delivering packages weighing less than 5 pounds in 30 minutes or less.

Amazon says it’s now conducting test flights to demonstrate the reliability of its new delivery drone, the MK30, which the company unveiled at an event last year. The drone is intended to be smaller and quieter than prior models, and can fly through light and rain.

Amazon posted “Amazon drone delivery is coming to Arizona” From the post:

Later this year, Amazon customers in the West Valley Phoenix Metro Area can receive Prime Air drone deliveries from our Tolleson, AZ Same-Day Delivery site.

Since starting drone delivery in College Station, Texas, and Lockeford, California in 2022, we’ve delivered thousands of items to customers in less than an hour. Last year we also began delivering prescription medications in partnership with Amazon Pharmacy to customers in College Station. We’ve received great feedback from customers and communities as we’ve rolled out the service.

We’re now adding a new location and entering the next stage of the program’s evolution. Later this year, drone deliveries are coming to the West Valley of the Phoenix Metro Area in Arizona.

With this new location, we’ll be fully integrated into Amazon’s delivery network, meaning, for the first time, drones will deploy from facilities next to our Same-Day Delivery site in Tolleson. These smaller sites are hybrid — part fulfillment center, pat delivery station. They allow us to fulfill, sort, and deliver products all from one site so we can get packages out to our customers even quicker.

Our Same-Day Delivery sites are situated close to the large metro areas they serve, which means customers get their orders faster. And with connections to the larger Amazon fulfillment centers nearby, we are able to offer Same-Day Delivery on millions of items…

TechCrunch reported Amazon it is ending Prime Air drone delivery operations in Lockeford, California. The Central California town of 3,500 was the company’s second U.S. drone delivery site, after College Station, Texas. Operations were announced in June 2022.

The retail giant is not offering details around the setback, only noting, “We’ll offer all current employees opportunities at other sites, and continue serve customers in Lockeford with other delivery methods. We want to thank the community for all their support and feedback over the past few years.”

College Station deliveries will continue, along with a forthcoming site in Tolleson, Arizona, set to kick off deliveries later this year. Tolleson, a city of just over 7,000, is located in Maricopa County, in the western portion of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

In my opinion, it appears that Amazon intends to move its newest drone to different parts of the United States. It is also really good that current workers will be offered work at some of Amazon’s other sites.

Amazon Gives Up On No-Checkout Shopping In Its Grocery Stores

Amazon has decided to give up on its Just Walk Out program that lets customers leave its brick-and-mortar grocery stores without a formal checkout process, The Verge reported.

Instead, it’s switching fully to “Dash Carts,” where customers can scan products as they toss them in their cart.

That’s according to The Information, which reports that the company is pulling Just Walk Out from all larger stores where the system is in place and “sprucing up the stores across the board” as it prepares to expand Amazon Fresh locations this year. Amazon will keep using its smaller corner stores, though.

Amazon hasn’t managed to get a handle on in-person retail despite buying the upscale, popular Whole Foods chain back in 2017. Over the years, the online shopping giant has closed all of its Books, 4-Star, and Pop-up stores and halted the expansion of its Fresh stores.

According to The Verge, with the company falling back to further its Dash Carts, it’s essentially shrinking self-checkout into a contraption with scanners and a touchscreen, bolted onto special shopping carts — something that other retailers have tried in the US and in Europe — followed by checking out with a palm scanner. That has benefits like customers being able to keep a running total while they shop, but Amazon would still face hurdles.

Gizmodo reported Amazon is phasing out its checkout-less grocery stores with “Just Walk Out” technology. The company’s senior vice president of grocery stores says they’re moving away from Just Walk Out, which relied on cameras and sensors to track what people were leaving the store with.

Just over half of Amazon Fresh stores are equipped with Just Walk Out. The technology allows customers to skip checkout altogether by scanning a QR code when they enter the store. Though it seemed completely automated, Just Walk Out relied on more than 1,000 people in India watching and labeling videos to ensure accurate checkouts. The cashiers were simply moved off-site, and they watched you as you shopped.

Instead, Amazon is moving towards Dash Carts, a scanner and a screen that’s embedded in your shopping cart, allowing you to checkout as you shop. These offer a more reliable solution than Just Walk Out. Amazon Fresh stores will also feature self check out counters from now on, for people who aren’t Amazon members.

Engadget also reported Amazon is removing Just Walk Out tech from all of its Fresh grocery stores in the U.S. The self-checkout system relies on a host of cameras, sensors and good old-fashioned human eyeballs to track what people leave the store with, charging the customers accordingly.

The technology has been plagued by issues from the onset. Most notably, Just Walk Out presents the illusion of automation, with Amazon crowing about generative AI and the like. Here’s where the smoke and mirrors come in. While the stores have no actual cashiers, there are reportedly over 1,000 real people in India scanning the camera feeds to ensure accurate checkouts.

According to Engadget, its also incredibly expensive to install and maintain the necessary equipment, which is likely why Just Walk Out technology was only adopted at around half of Fresh stores in the U.S.

In my opinion, it would be easier to just get your groceries from your local grocery store, or request a door-dash driver to bring the groceries you requested to your door.

Amazon and SpaceX Are Quietly Trying To Demolish National Labor Law

Amazon alleged in a legal filing published Friday morning that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is unconstitutional. SpaceX and Trader Joe’s — companies that, like Amazon, have repeatedly faced labor law violations from the federal agency — have recently made similar attacks that threaten national worker protections, TechCrunch reported.

This is just Amazon’s latest attempt to block union organizing in its fulfillment centers. But this time, these companies aren’t just limiting the rights of their own workers. If these threats against the NLRB keep moving forward, American workers could lose workplace protections that they’ve had for almost a century.

Amazon claims that the NLRB’s structure is unconstitutional because administrative law judges are “insulated from presidential oversight,” thus violating separation of powers. The company also argues against the structure of NLRB itself, as well as its ability to fine a company for unfair labor practices after a hearing, rather than a full jury trial.

According to TechCrunch, like other federal agencies, the NLRB is largely shaped by the current president. Under President Joe Biden, who refers to himself as pro-worker, the NLRB has been friendly to workers’ causes. But as the 2024 election looms, a Republican administration could significantly change that, making it more likely for corporations to be successful in attempts to strike down long-standing labor law.

Reuters reported that has joined rocket maker SpaceX and grocery chain Trader Joe’s in claiming that a U.S. labor agency’s in-house enforcement proceedings violate the U.S. Constitution, as the retail giant faces scores of cases claiming it interfered with workers’ rights to organize.

The company also said that limits on the removal of administrative judges and the board’s five members, who are appointed by the president, are unconstitutional.

According to Reuters, the filing came in a pending case accusing Amazon of illegally retaliating against workers in the New York City of Staten Island, where employees voted to unionize in 2022. Amazon, which has faced more than 250 NLRB complaints alleging unlawful labor practices across the country in recent years, has denied wrongdoing.

Reuters also wrote that SpaceX is making similar claims against the board in a lawsuit filed last month, one day after the labor board accused the company of firing eight engineers for criticizing CEO Elon Musk in a letter to company executives.

Trader Joe’s raised the arguments later in January at a hearing in an NLRB case, and two Starbucks baristas seeking to dissolve their unions have challenged the board’s structure in separate lawsuits.

In my opinion, it is wrong for gigantic corporations, that have tons of money, to actively try to separate their workers from the union the workers voted for. If these big companies win, it will likely cause an even worse workplace environment for their labor force. I’m hoping that Amazon, SpaceX, and Trader Joe’s are told “no, you can’t do that.”

Amazon Lays Off 180 Employees In Its Games Division

Video game layoff season – an extension of what has basically at this point become video game layoff year – is in full swing, and now Amazon is getting in on it, Aftermath reported.

Two sources with knowledge of the layoffs told Aftermath that Amazon is eliminating 180 positions in its games division. This includes the entirety of Crown Channel, an Amazon-backed Twitch channel, and the Game Growth team, with a larger goal of refocusing around Prime Gaming, a portion of the company’s Amazon Prime subscription that offers free games and in-game content.

Amazon confirmed the news and provided a copy of the internal email received by employees:

“We’ve listened to our customers and we know that delivering free games every month is what they want most, so we are refining our Prime benefit to increase our focus there. With these changes in our business approach come changes to our resourcing, resulting in the elimination of just over 180 roles,” wrote Christoph Hartmann, VP of Amazon Games, in the email to employees.

TechCrunch reported that Amazon announced another cluster of layoffs this week along with plans to discontinue Crown Channel, a flashy Amazon-run Twitch channel that featured television-like programming. Amazon will also shutter its Game Growth group, which helped creators in the gaming world market themselves.

According to Amazon spokesperson Brittney Hefner, the restructuring will focus on Amazon’s gaming efforts on its “primary business” of creating games in-house – like New World, its 2021 massive multiplayer title and a forthcoming Lord of the Rings game – and publishing games from outside developers.

CNBC reported that Amazon will close its Game Growth and Crown Channel initiatives as part of restructuring. Now, Amazon will focus on upcoming launches such as Throne and Liberty and Blue Protocol, as well as future initiatives such as Tomb Raider and The Lord of the Rings games, Christoph Hartmann, vice president of Amazon Games, wrote in the memo to employees.

Shares of Amazon closed down less than 1% on Monday.

According to CNBC, the latest job cuts come as CEO Andy Jassy has been in cost-cutting mode over the past year as the company has battled high interest rates and inflation. As a result, Amazon has carried out the largest layoffs in history, cutting 27,000 jobs since last fall. The company also froze corporate hiring, and Jassy has looked to trim expenses in units across the company.

In my opinion, Amazon’s decision to lay off more workers right before the holiday season is a terrible decision. Companies who choose to lay off workers at this time are making it extremely difficult for those they let go to find another good playing job.

Amazon Plans To Start Drone Deliveries In UK And Italy Next Year

Amazon has some big plans for its drone delivery program, including an international expansion to the UK and Italy in 2024, Engadget reported. The company aims to start drone operations in a third US city next year, following existing efforts in College Station, Texas (where it just started offering prescription medication delivery by drone) and Lockeford, California.

According to Engadget, drone deliveries in the UK and Italy will start at one site each before expanding to more locations over time. Amazon says it will announce the specific locations for the US, UK and Italy expansion in the coming months.

Engadget also reported that Amazon will integrate the Prime Air program into its delivery network. In the US, drones will run out of some Same-Day Delivery sites. By basing drones at those locations and its larger fulfillment centers in the UK and Italy, Amazon says customers can choose from a wider range of items for drone deliveries. Until now, Amazon has been using dedicated delivery centers at its first two Prime Air locations.

Amazon provided the following information regarding drone deliveries:

Amazon customers in Italy, the UK, and an additional U.S. city will soon have the option to get their packages delivered by a drone beginning in late 2024. The Prime Air drone delivery system is expanding to international locations, and adding a third city in the United States by the end of next year – specific cities in the U.S. and abroad will be named in coming months.

The new locations add to our existing drone delivery operations in the U.S., where we’ve been using drones to safely deliver packages weighing up to five pounds in one hour or less, for almost a year.

In addition to new delivery sites, Prime Air is unveiling the new MK30 drone design, which is quieter, smaller, and lighter than previous models. We’re also announcing that drone deliveries will be integrating into Amazon’s delivery network, meaning drones will deploy from some Same-Day Delivery sites. In Italy and the UK, we will start integrating into some of our fulfillment centers, which will provide Amazon customers with faster delivery of an even greater selection of items. We will start with one site in each location and expand over time…

…We are working closely with national regulators and international regulators, and communities in the EU, Italy, the UK and the U.S., to develop this program. We have committed the necessary time and resources to build a safe and scalable service. We have refined the technology, and are now building the right infrastructure to ensure the service provides the ultimate convenience for our customers.

We have also taken great care to ensure that our drones’ design philosophy and demonstrated levels of safety are setting a higher bar for safety across the commercial drone delivery industry, working closely with regulators to design to the highest standard set within those regulations…

The Guardian reported that Amazon first outlined plans to use drones for delivery in 2013, stoking expectations of a new era of even faster package delivery. “It will work, and it will happen, and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” founder Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes on CBS at the time.

But progress has been slow. The company launched its Prime Air Service – in Lockeford, California, and College Station, Texas – late last year, and CNBC reported in May that its drones had conducted just 100 deliveries. It had previously set an internal target of 10,000 this year.

In my opinion, people who live in the areas where Amazon’s drones can deliver might feel that’s easier than driving their car to a store where they can get a similar product. I have concerns that it may be possible for Amazon’s drones to push out some local businesses.

Amazon Requires Authors To Disclose AI-Generated Content

Amazon is now requiring authors who sell books through the company’s e-book program to disclose in advance if their work contains any AI-generated material, PCMag reported.

A new passage in the company’s direct publishing guidelines states: “We require you to inform us of AI-generated content (text, images, or translations), when you publish a new book or make edits to and republish and existing book through KDP. AI-generated images include cover and interior images and artwork.”

According to PCMag, the company does not require authors to disclose AI-assisted content, which it defines as content you created yourself and then “used AI-based tools to edit, refine, error-check, or otherwise improve that content (whether text or images).”

According to PCMag, the AP reported the move comes after months of complaints from organizations like the Authors Guild, which have concerns about “AI-generated books flooding the platform and displacing human authors to protect consumers from unwittingly purchasing AI-generated texts.”

The Authors Guild posted news titled: “Amazon’s New Disclosure Policy for AI-Generated Book Content Is a Welcome First Step”. From the news (which was posted on September 7):

Today, Amazon announced its new policy requiring those who post content to its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform to disclose to Amazon if the content contains AI-generated content, including text, images, or translations.

The new policy comes after months of discussions between the Author’s Guild and KDP leadership on the need for safeguards against AI-generated books flooding the platform and displacing human authors and to protect consumers from unwittingly purchasing AI-generated texts. We are grateful to the Amazon team for taking our concerns into account and enacting this important step toward ensuring transparency and accountability for AI-generated content.

The Authors Guild is currently working to ensure that books used to train generative AI are licensed, and we do not encourage the use of any AI that is trained on unlicensed books and journalism. The unchecked use of generative AI technologies to compose the entire text of a book, resulting in AI-generated books, poses a serious threat.

In recent news, we have seen examples of AI-generated books ascending the best-seller lists on Amazon, and content farms appropriating the name, styles, and content of well-known authors such as Jane Friedman. This is grossly unfair to the writers who bring unique life experiences and talent to their work, and who cannot fairly compete against industrialized content farms…

Amazon provided the following information regarding Artificial Intelligence (AI) content (text, images, or translations):

AI-generated: We define AI-generated content as text, images, or translations created by an AI-based tool. If you used an AI-based tool to create the actual content (whether text, images, or translations), it is considered “AI-generated,” even if you applied substantial edits afterwards.

AI-assisted: If you created the content yourself, and used AI-based tools to refine, error-check, or otherwise improve that content (whether text or images), then it is considered “AI-assisted” and not “AI-generated.” Similarly, if you used an AI-based tool to brainstorm and generate ideas, but ultimately created the text or images yourself, this is also considered “AI-assisted” and not “AI-generated.” It is not necessary to inform us of the use of such tools or processes.

Personally, I think it was a good decision for Amazon to specify rules about how they will treat AI-generated content in books that it allows to be on its KDP site. I cannot imagine that an AI-driven storyline would result in a compelling, interesting, and entertaining story.

Amazon And Disney Announce “Hey Disney!” Launch For Echo Devices

Amazon and Disney are excited to share that Hey Disney! – a new voice assistant built on Alexa technology and referred as the ‘Disney Magical Companion’ – is officially available for customers to purchase in the U.S. as an annual, auto-renewing subscription in the Alexa Skills Store for use on their supported Echo devices at home. Additionally, Hey Disney! is included as a part of subscription to Amazon Kids+.

Hey Disney! marks the first time an Alexa Custom Assistant (ACA) is available on supported Echo devices for customers at-home and uniquely brings together an array of content featuring 20+ characters across Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, and other beloved franchises. ACA is a comprehensive solution that made it possible for Disney to create an assistant with a custom voice (the Disney Magical Companion) and wake word (“Hey Disney!”).

The Disney Magical Companion introduces a new way to bring Disney’s expansive storytelling to life for fans of all ages at home, providing magical responses to everyday things like weather, timers, and alarms, as well as entertainment like Disney trivia, storytelling, interactive adventures with characters, and more.

To purchase and set-up Hey Disney!, customers can simply say “Alexa, introduce me to Hey Disney.” Once the purchase is made and the experience is enabled, they can say “Hey Disney, start the magic” for an introduction on how the Disney Magical Companion works alongside Alexa.

“Hey Disney! represents the art of what’s possible when two major companies marry their creative and technical expertise,” said Mark Yoshitake, GM and Director of Alexa Skills. “This is a whole new way to bring Disney storytelling to life for fans of all ages and we are thrilled to offer a magical, new experience for customers to enjoy on their Echo devices.”

TechCrunch reported that Hey Disney! Marks the first time that an Alexa Custom Assistant (ACA) has launched on Echo devices inside customers’ homes. ACA allows companies to customize Alexa’s technology so its specific to their brand and supports their in-house tech.

According to TechCrunch, the custom assistant has its own voice and personality, which is named the “Disney Magical Companion.” It features over 20 characters across Disney, Pixar, and Star Wars franchises, including: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, Olaf, Moana, Dory, Mater, Chewbacca, R2-D2, Fozzie Bear and more.

Users can ask Hey Disney! Simple commands like setting an alarm or timer, there are also thousands of custom interactions, TechCrunch reported, from jokes and greetings to trivia games and soundscapes, among other activities.

Plus, users can engage in “Play-Along Adventures” or interactive audio and visual experiences. The companies wrote in the announcement that the adventure feature allows users to go on “fun-filled journeys like going fishing with Goofy.” There will also be “Easter Eggs” built into the experience which will “surprise and delight customers,” Aaron Rubenson, VP of Amazon Alexa, told TechCrunch.

In my opinion, “Hey Disney!” sounds like fun, especially for children and adults who are Disney fans. The Disney Magical Companion is a new voice assistant built on Alexa technology, and is available in the U.S. for most voice-activated Echo devices. Those who want to purchase “Hey Disney!” can do so on Amazon. The subscription costs $5.99/year.