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FAA rules could smooth the way for drone deliveries

After months of feedback and fine-tuning, the Federal Aviation Administration today issued its final versions of safety rules for drones that fly over people and at night — including the drones that Amazon is developing to make package deliveries.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said in a news release. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Draft versions of the rules were issued a year ago, kicking off a review period during which the FAA received about 53,000 comments. The final rules take effect in about two months.

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How Amazon’s cloud and satellite ventures mesh

Amazon Web Services and the Project Kuiper satellite internet venture may be separate domains of Jeff Bezos’ business empire, but even Amazon’s executives admit there’s a lot of potential for synergy.

That’s one reason why the prospects for Project Kuiper shouldn’t be underestimated, even though Amazon is lagging behind SpaceX and OneWeb in the commercial satellite space race.

Project Kuiper announced last year that it intends to put 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit, creating a constellation that would provide broadband internet access to the billions of people around the world who lack high-speed connections.

“Access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward. … It’s also a very good business for Amazon,” CEO Jeff Bezos said at last year’s re:MARS conference.

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Amazon’s Project Kuiper shows off satellite antennas

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet said when it’ll start launching satellites or providing broadband internet access from above, but it is sharing details about how customers will get their data.

The $10 billion project, which aims to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit, will use an innovative type of phased-array antenna that overlays one set of tiny elements on top of another set, Amazon said today in a blog posting. “This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band,” the company said.

Amazon says the innovation should result in a lightweight, low-cost customer terminal with an antenna that’s only 12 inches (30 centimeters) wide. The hardware is being developed primarily at Project Kuiper’s research and development facility in Redmond, Wash.

“If you want to make a difference for unserved and underserved communities, you need to deliver service at a price that makes sense for customers,” said Rajeev Badyal, vice president of technology for Project Kuiper at Amazon. “This simple fact inspired one of our key tenets for Kuiper: to invent a light, compact phased-array antenna that would allow us to produce an affordable customer terminal.”

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Quantum computing goes public at Amazon

Eight months after unveiling its Amazon Braket quantum computing platform, Amazon Web Services says the cloud-based service is officially open for business.

In a video that pokes a bit of fun at the weirdness of quantum concepts, Bill Vass, vice president for AWS technology, says Braket serves as a “launch pad for people to go explore quantum computing.”

In contrast to the rigid one-or-zero realm of classical computing, Braket and similar platforms take advantage of the fuzziness of quantum algorithms, in which quantum bits — or “qubits” — can represent multiple values simultaneously until the results are read out.

Quantum computing is particularly well-suited for tackling challenges ranging from cryptography — which serves as the foundation of secure online commerce — to the development of new chemical compounds for industrial and medical use. Some of the first applications could well be in the realm of system optimization, including the optimization of your financial portfolio.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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Amazon commits $10B to satellites after FCC’s OK

The Federal Communications Commission has authorized Amazon’s plans for a Project Kuiper constellation of 3,236 satellites that would provide broadband internet access across a wide swath of the globe — but on the condition that it doesn’t unduly interfere with previously authorized satellite ventures.

In response, Amazon said it would invest more than $10 billion in the project. “We’re off to the races,” Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, said in a statement.

The FCC’s non-interference requirements and other conditions are laid out in a 24-page order that was adopted on July 29 and released today. The ruling addresses objections registered by Amazon’s rivals — including SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat.

Project Kuiper’s satellites are to be launched in five phases, and service would begin once Amazon launched the first 578 satellites. Under the terms of the FCC’s order, Amazon will have to launch half of its satellites by mid-2026, and the rest of them by mid-2029.

Amazon had sought to vie on an equal footing with constellation operators whose plans had been previously authorized by the FCC, but the commission said that in fairness, Project Kuiper would have to give deference to those plans. The FCC said that it expected Amazon’s mega-constellation rivals to act in good faith to resolve radio interference concerns.

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FCC chief tweets support for Amazon satellite plan

The Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, says he’s proposing approval of Amazon’s plan to put more than 3,200 satellites into low Earth orbit for a broadband internet constellation known as Project Kuiper … with conditions.

In a tweet, Pai said he shared his proposal today with colleagues on the commission.

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AWS creates a space force for cloud computing

Amazon Web Services today unveiled a new business unit devoted to developing data infrastructure and cloud services for the aerospace and satellite industry — and headed by someone who helped set up the U.S. Space Force.

The Aerospace and Satellite Solutions business segment will be headed by retired Air Force Major Gen. Clint Crosier, former director of Space Force Planning.

“We find ourselves in the most exciting time in space since the Apollo missions,” Crosier said in today’s announcement from Amazon. “I have watched AWS transform the IT industry over the last 10 years and be instrumental in so many space milestones. I am honored to join AWS to continue to transform the industry and propel the space enterprise forward.”

The unveiling was announced by Teresa Carlson at the AWS Public Sector Summit Online. “Whether on Earth or in space, AWS is committed to understanding our customers’ missions,” she said.

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Elon Musk starts another catfight with Jeff Bezos

Another tweet, another catfight: Billionaire CEO Elon Musk has once again accused super-billionaire Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos of being a copycat.

This time, Musk took aim at Amazon’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Zoox, a venture focusing on self-driving cars that could compete with Tesla, the car company that Musk heads.

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How Alexa is changing its tone during pandemic

Manoj Sindhwani
Manoj Sindhwani is vice president of Alexa speech at Amazon. (AWS Video)

Alexa, do I need a coronavirus test?

That’s a query that almost certainly was not in the repertoire for Amazon’s voice assistant six months ago. But the ins and outs of the coronavirus outbreak are changing Alexa’s work habits, said Manoj Sindhwani, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa Speech.

“We’re certainly seeing certain shifts,” Sindhwani told GeekWire this week. “You see a lot of people asking about COVID-19. People are not asking about ‘How long will it take for me to get to work.’ ”

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How Amazon robotics team is tackling virus

Amazon drone
Amazon’s robotics group is developing Prime Air drones that can deliver packages, but it’s also working on projects aimed at coping with the coronavirus outbreak. (Amazon Photo / Jordan Stead)

For years, Amazon Prime Air has been working on drones that can deliver packages to customers, but now it’s also working on projects to help Amazon itself deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, hinted Prime Air’s role this week in a LinkedIn posting he wrote in response to the resignation of fellow VP Tim Bray.

Bray said he quit to protest the firings of whistleblowers sounding the alarm about COVID-19 risks. (The controversy is continuing, with nine U.S. senators asking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for more information about the firings.)

In his LinkedIn posting, Porter insisted that worker safety was a high priority at Amazon, and mentioned the efforts that his group has been making.

“We are working hard to develop and deploy additional processes and technology for a range of measures – from social distancing to contact tracing,” Porter wrote. “We are developing mobile ultraviolet sanitation. My Prime Air drones and robotics group has become an R&D lab for COVID innovation that I can’t wait to share with you. Today I reviewed a list of 72 new ideas for improvements we can make.”

We’re hearing that further information about those ideas will be coming out soon. In the meantime, Business Insider is reporting that one of Prime Air’s projects is using lab space and equipment to produce protective plastic face shields for its warehouse workers and local hospitals.

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Update: ’60 Minutes’ shows Amazon’s virus-killing robot