Amazon is rumoured to be getting into the robot business.
The online retail giant is quietly developing consumer robots that can help customers around the home, with a potential launch date of 2019, Bloomberg reported.
According to one former senior executive at both Facebook and Google, the news is evidence of how Amazon is a “silent assassin” — and that the retailer one day even give Facebook a run for its money.
Richard Wooldridge is a seasoned tech executive, working as the chief operating officer (COO) at two of the highest-regarded hardware labs in tech: Facebook’s secretive Building 8, and Google’s famed ATAP (Advanced Technologies and Products) skunkworks.
He recently joined Israeli AI drone startup Airobotics as its new COO, and in an interview with Business Insider, he explained why he’s incredibly bullish on Amazon.
“Whenever I’ve done new innovation both at Google and Facebook, it’s looking, for me, at the gap in the market and what pain point you’re trying to fix […] is there market research that say that’s needed, or […] are you disrupting a market that consumers really haven’t though about,” Wooldridge said.
This, he said, is what Amazon has excelled at. “Five years ago people laughed at Alexa,” Amazon’s AI-powered smart speaker, but it now dominates the burgeoning market.
“I think for me, people underestimate what they can be […] Amazon is that silent assassin that keeps creating solutions.”
When it comes to the robot project, the success or failure will depend on how transformative it will be to people’s lives, and how autonomously it will be able to run, the exec said.
“If this requires a lot of manhandling by the consumer this is just too much work for us,” said Wooldridge. However, the rumours point to success of Amazon’s broader strategy.
Amazon has always played a different game than many of its fellow tech giants. It has been unusually unconcerned with turning a profit. As CNBC reported on Friday, Apple made significantly greater profits in just three months ($48 billion) than Amazon has in its entire lifespan ($9.6 billion).
“If you look at where Amazon’s evolved from […] they have more in-roads to people’s homes than anybody today […] people trust, for some reason, the Amazon brand, because they deliver them parcels, buy groceries,” Wooldridge said. “They have access to human behaviour just by the way people are shopping, buying products, using products, using their platform, their marketplace,” Wooldridge said.
Amazon isn’t scandal-free: It has been repeatedly criticized over its working conditions, with Business Insider reporting that employees urinated in bottles because they were concerned they’d be punished if they took breaks. But the company has managed to avoid any major privacy or security concerns like those Facebook has faced in recent months — putting them in a good position as they push further into consumers’ lives.
There are already signs that this is an area of interest for Amazon: The Amazon Echo now lets you voice-call other Echo-owners, and the screen-equipped Amazon Echo Show lets users make video calls.
“If they ever get through all their Prime, their network a social aspect, I think Facebook’s at risk, because I think they do become the one-stop shop,” the exec said. “And there’s no privacy issue.”
Later he added: “I think if they ever get a social platform, then […] they have a fully rounded solution. Because I think Apple’s never really pursued that path, and […] Google Plus really didn’t get to that path. But if they’ve got a social platform where they can interact and you can share meaningful stories with your colleagues and friends, you can purchase from the same site, you’ve got the Alexa platform you can communicate their video video platform, and there’s that trust there, I think that’d take them to a different level.”
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