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Amazon’s Alexa will ride on NASA’s Orion moon ship

Alexa, when are we arriving at the moon?

Putting Amazon’s AI-enabled voice assistant on a moon-bound spaceship may sound like science fiction (hello, HAL!). But it’s due to become science fact later this year when a radiation-hardened console rides along in NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule for the Artemis 1 round-the-moon mission.

There’ll be no humans aboard for the test flight, which will mark the first launch of NASA’s heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket. Instead, Alexa’s voice, and Echo’s pulsing blue ring, will be interacting with operators at Houston’s Mission Control for a technology demonstration created by Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco.

The project is known as Callisto — a name that pays tribute to the mythological nymph who was a follower of the Greek goddess Artemis.

“Callisto will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could be used in the future to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant as they explore deep space,” Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of commercial civil space, said in a news release.

Including Alexa on the mission is particularly meaningful for Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa. “The Star Trek computer was actually a key part of the original inspiration for Alexa — this notion of an ambient intelligence that is there when you need it … but then also fades into the background when you don’t need it,” he said during a teleconference.

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Amazon shows how satellites can fill broadband gaps

Amazon’s Project Kuiper hasn’t yet launched a single satellite, but in a video released this week, it’s talking up what its broadband internet constellation will be able to do for rural connectivity.

The video focuses on unmet broadband needs in Cle Elum (pop. 2,037), a town nestled in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state.

“Quite a few people move out to this area because it’s gorgeous, but people are reluctant to open small businesses due to the lack of reliable internet,” Audrey Malek, founding partner of Basecamp Outfitters, says on camera.

The solution — at least according to MiMi Aung, senior manager at Project Kuiper — is the 3,236-satellite constellation that her team is planning to start testing in orbit as early as next year.

“Even just right here in our backyard, right outside Redmond, there are areas where there is no internet connection, or extraordinarily poor connection, and we can make a huge impact right away,” said Aung, who came to Amazon from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she headed up the team behind the Ingenuity helicopter on Mars.

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Walmart and DroneUp set up drone delivery hubs

Walmart is partnering with Virginia-based DroneUp on a network of drone delivery hubs, starting with a neighborhood market in Farmington, Ark.

The move appears to put Walmart ahead of its retail rival, Amazon, in expanding the frontier for aerial deliveries. Amazon announced its drone development program back in 2013, and two years ago, the company said regular drone deliveries were mere months away. Recent reports, however, have hinted that Amazon Prime Air’s progress has slowed down significantly.

Today’s announcement about the first delivery hubs in Arkansas comes five months after Walmart made a strategic investment in DroneUp and signed a contract that expanded the companies’ pilot project for drone deliveries.

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Amazon plans first Kuiper satellite launches in 2022

Amazon plans to launch the first two prototype satellites for its Project Kuiper satellite broadband constellation by late 2022, using rockets currently being developed by ABL Space Systems.

The timeline for testing what’s slated to become a 3,236-satellite network in low Earth orbit was laid out today in an experimental license application filed with the Federal Communications Commission. It’s the first time that Amazon has specified launch dates in its multibillion-dollar effort to compete with SpaceX’s Starlink network, which is already in limited operation.

Amazon said the two prototype satellites — KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 — would serve as a testbed for technologies that it plans to use to offer broadband internet service to tens of millions of people around the globe. The prototypes will also help the company validate procedures on the ground for operating and maintaining the full constellation.

The satellites are being developed at Amazon’s Project Kuiper headquarters in Redmond, Wash. — not far from where SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are built.

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Amazon partners with UCLA on AI science hub

Amazon and UCLA are launching a research hub that will draw upon industry and academic research to address the social issues raised by the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.

The Science Hub for Humanity and Artificial Intelligence will be based at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering in Los Angeles, with Amazon providing $1 million in funding for the initial year of the partnership. The two parties may renew the agreement for up to four additional years.

In a news release, UCLA said faculty from across its campus will collaborate with Amazon’s AI specialists to identify and solve research challenges in the field of artificial intelligence, with particular attention to issues such as algorithmic bias, fairness, accountability and responsible AI. The collaboration will support doctoral fellowships and research projects as well as community outreach programs.

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AWS’ quantum computing center is alive at Caltech

It’s been nearly two years since Amazon Web Services announced a quantum computing initiative that included the establishment of an AWS Center for Quantum Computing — and today AWS is opening the box, Schrödinger-style, to reveal that the center is alive and delving into quantum weirdness in a new building on Caltech’s campus in Pasadena, Calif.

Caltech says the two-story, 21,000-square-foot facility is the first corporate partnership building on its campus. “Day One” came in August, said Oskar Painter, a Caltech physics professor who’s leading the center.

“We’re in the building,” Painter, the AWS center’s head of quantum hardware, told GeekWire. “Our people have been working there, which has been great. Obviously, we would have been remote regardless, given the COVID [pandemic], but it’s been a really great time to come back and see each other, and celebrate this facility.”

The center will bring together AWS developers and academic researchers, not just from Caltech but from other institutions around the country, to solve problems standing in the way of a quantum computing revolution. Among the collaborators are researchers from the University of Washington, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and other computer science powerhouses.

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Amazon and Verizon plan satellite cellular services

Amazon’s Project Kuiper and Verizon Communications say they’ll collaborate on connectivity solutions that capitalize on Kuiper’s future broadband satellite constellation as well as Verizon’s terrestrial 4G/LTE and 5G data networks.

The Amazon-Verizon partnership will focus on rural communities and other regions that are currently underserved when it comes to broadband data services, the two companies said today in a news release.

“There are billions of people without reliable broadband access, and no single company will close the digital divide on its own,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said. “Verizon is a leader in wireless technology and infrastructure, and we’re proud to be working together to explore bringing fast, reliable broadband to the customers and communities who need it most. We look forward to partnering with companies and organizations around the world who share this commitment.”

Last year, Amazon received the Federal Communications Commission’s conditional go-ahead to deploy 3,236 satellites that would provide broadband internet access across the globe from low Earth orbit, or LEO.

Amazon says it plans to invest more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper — and the company currently has more than 700 employees working on the project, most of them based in Redmond, Wash. Antennas for the ground terminals are being tested in Redmond and elsewhere, but the satellite design hasn’t yet been unveiled.

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How the cloud supports Satellogic’s whole Earth catalog

It’s one thing to send down more than a trillion bytes of satellite data every day, and quite another thing to turn all that data into a complete picture of our planet that’s updated daily.

For the first part of the task, Satellogic — a global company that’s headquartered in Uruguay — turns to a constellation of Earth observation satellites that’s expected to grow from its current 17 spacecraft to more than 300 by 2025.

To help with the processing part of the job, Satellogic turns to Amazon Web Services.

“We’ve built the future together, between Satellogic and AWS,” Clint Crosier, director of AWS Aerospace and Satellite Solutions, told GeekWire. “We’ve enabled them to plan to their goal of being able to image every square kilometer of the Earth every single day.”

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Amazon fires back at SpaceX in satellite war of words

Amazon laid out out a laundry list of SpaceX’s regulatory tussles today in a letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission, marking the latest chapter in a bare-knuckles battle over broadband satellite constellations.

The letter — written by C. Andrew Keisner, lead counsel for Amazon’s multibillion-dollar Project Kuiper satellite project — argues that SpaceX has run roughshod over regulatory requirements, and that SpaceX lambastes anyone who seeks to call the company to account.

“Whether it is launching satellites with unlicensed antennas, launching rockets without approval, building an unapproved launch tower, or reopening a factory in violation of a shelter-in-place order, the conduct of SpaceX and other Musk-led companies makes their view plain: rules are for other people, and those who insist upon or even simply request compliance are deserving of derision and ad hominem attacks,” Keisner wrote.

This comes in response to SpaceX’s complaint last week that Amazon is “more than willing to use regulatory and legal processes to create obstacles designed to delay” its competitors.

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Elon Musk goads Jeff Bezos as space spat escalates

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has fired a fresh volley of tart tweets at Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin space venture, in the midst of a regulatory tussle over SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation and Amazon’s competing Project Kuiper concept.

And this time, space lasers are involved.

The spark that lit Musk’s latest flame war came after SpaceX sought the Federal Communications Commission’s approval to amend plans for sending up tens of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global broadband service. The amendment would let SpaceX use its Starship mega-rocket, currently under development, to put its Gen2 satellites into an assortment of orbits.

In response, Amazon urged the FCC to turn back SpaceX’s request, saying that the amendment proposes “two mutually exclusive configurations” for the Starlink constellation and leaves too many details unsettled. And in response to thatSpaceX told the FCC that Amazon’s filing was “only the latest in its continuing efforts to slow down competition.”

SpaceX also complained that Amazon was neglecting to resolve the FCC’s concerns about Project Kuiper. The FCC gave conditional approval to Amazon’s plans more than a year ago — provided that the Kuiper satellites didn’t interfere with previously approved satellite systems, including Starlink. SpaceX noted that Amazon hasn’t yet filed documents showing how it planned to avoid interference and ensure safe satellite operations.

More than 1,700 first-generation Starlink satellites have already been launched in accordance with previous FCC approvals, and the internet service is currently in expanded beta testing.

The Starlink spat comes amid the backdrop of legal protests that Bezos’ other big brainchild, Blue Origin, has filed against NASA for awarding a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX. Because of Blue Origin’s lawsuit, NASA and SpaceX have suspended work to adapt Starship as the landing system for a crewed mission to the moon, which is currently set for as early as 2024. (That date seems increasingly unlikely, however, and not just because of the lawsuit.)

In today’s tweets, Musk touched on the FCC filings as well as the lunar lander dispute, referring to Bezos without mentioning him by name.