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Tech community sets up telehealth directory

Telehealth can revolutionize health care. (Veterans Health Administration Photo)

Amazon Web Services and two tech industry groups have created a new online resource that lists dozens of digital health products, tools and services to help the health care industry cope with complications brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

TechHealthDirectory.com was launched today by the Consumer Technology Association and the American Telemedicine Association, in response to a challenge issued by the White House’s chief technology officer, Michael Kratsios. Telehealth resources are getting used more widely in the wake of the Trump administration’s moves to expand coverage for medical services that don’t require a visit to overstressed hospitals or clinics.

“The Trump administration recognizes the power of telemedicine and digital health solutions in keeping Americans healthy and safe during this unprecedented time, making it a priority to expand access for patients and doctors alike,” Kratsios said in a news release announcing the directory’s debut.

Amazon Web Services was put in charge of developing and hosting the website.

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Jeff Bezos pledges to help WHO with test kits

WHO director general with Jeff Bezos
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus conducts a videoconference with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. (Courtesy of Jeff Bezos via Instagram)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the World Health Organization’s director-general are trading ideas on how to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control, using tools ranging from Amazon Web Services’ firepower in cloud computing and artificial intelligence to distribution channels for coronavirus test kits.

Bezos recapped today’s talk with Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in an Instagram post, featuring a screengrab of Bezos’ videoconference view with the billionaire’s own visage in the upper right corner of the frame.

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Amazon, Gates Foundation boost COVID-19 testing

A lab worker at the University of Washington Virology Lab gets a virus sample ready for testing. Details of the package have been obscured to ensure privacy protection. (UW Medicine via YouTube)

Amazon Care is offering assistance to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a plan to deliver coronavirus test kits to Seattle homes, CNBC reports.

The plan as described hints at a grand convergence involving two major players on Seattle’s tech scene, plus the University of Washington and the Seattle Flu Study.

Amazon Care is an on-demand healthcare clinic that’s open on a pilot basis to Seattle-area Amazon employees and their families. CNBC quoted unnamed sources as saying Amazon has offered to come up with a plan to deliver the test kits, which include nasal swabs to take samples, at no cost.

In an email to GeekWire, an Amazon spokesperson said “we’re in discussions with leaders in public health about how we can help” – but didn’t provide further details.

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Amazon patents whip-snapping launch system

Whip launch system
A diagram shows Amazon’s whip-based launch system in operation on a ship. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Never let it be said that Amazon Prime Air VP Gur Kimchi thinks small: His latest patent lays out a plan for a launch system that could theoretically send payloads into space on the end of a miles-long whip, guided by a phalanx of drones attached to the lash.

The patent application — co-written with veteran Amazon inventor Louis LeRoi LeGrand III, filed in 2017 and published on Feb. 11 — lays out an unusually detailed description of the system, right down to how the gear teeth in the mechanism could be arranged.

Although the application delves into the possibilities for boosting payloads to low Earth orbit, and then using orbiting platforms with tethers to transfer those payloads into even higher orbits, the inventors make clear there could be more mundane applications as well.

For example, smaller whips could send drones or other types of aerial vehicles into the air from ships at sea, or from planes in the air. Packages could be flung up on drones for processing on aerial fulfillment centers (an airship concept that’s the subject of an earlier Amazon patent).

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Amazon reveals lineup for re:MARS tech fest

re:MARS fireside chat
Amazon’s Jenny Freshwater engages Jeff Bezos in a fireside chat at last year’s inaugural re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (Amazon Photo)

How do you follow up on Iron Man? The answer for Amazon’s second annual re:MARS conference is to bring the godfather of Baby Yoda to the Vegas stage.

Jon Favreau — the actor, writer, director and producer who created “The Mandalorian,” a Star Wars spin-off starring Baby Yoda — will share headliner honors with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos when re:MARS returns to Las Vegas’ Aria Resort and Casino from June 16 to 19.

Amazon is opening registration for the event today, with tickets priced at last year’s level of $1,999. This year, academics and students who register using a .edu email address can get a price break (discount code: ACAD20REMARS). And just like last year, astronauts attending this year’s event get in free.

The preference for space travelers is apt: Space is one of the big topics covered at re:MARS, which is modeled after the invitation-only MARS conference that Amazon traditionally puts on in March.

MARS stands for Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. Those subjects are particularly appealing to Bezos as well as other folks at Amazon and at his Blue Origin space venture. There’ll be talks by Amazon execs, researchers and tech-minded celebs like Favreau, as well as interactive workshops, hands-on demos and networking events.

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Amazon counters opposition to Kuiper satellites

Mega-constellation
Multiple mega-constellations of satellites could take root in low Earth orbit over the next few years. (European Space Agency Illustration)

Amazon fired its latest volley today in a back-and-forth debate over whether the company can proceed in an expedited fashion with its 3,236-satellite Project Kuiper mega-constellation for broadband internet access.

Today’s 24-page letter to the Federal Communications Commission addresses objections raised by SpaceX, OneWeb and other mega-constellation ventures to Amazon’s request for an “expeditious grant” of its application to launch and operate the Kuiper satellites.

“Affording equitable access to spectrum and orbital resources will increase investment, innovation, and consumer choice.” Mariah Dodson Shuman, corporate counsel for Kuiper Systems, Amazon’s satellite subsidiary, wrote in the letter.

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MacKenzie Bezos sheds $400M in Amazon stock

MacKenzie Bezos
MacKenzie Bezos will donate more than half of her fortune to charity. (Photo via Bystander Revolution)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, has divested herself of about $400 million worth of the Amazon stock she received as part of the couple’s divorce settlement — potentially providing the wherewithal for the charitable activities she’s planning.

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Amazon patents ‘Doctor Who’ delivery robots

Storage compartment vehicle
A diagram from Amazon’s patent application shows a customer issuing a command to open up one of the doors on a storage compartment vehicle. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

Amazon is already testing robots that deliver packages, but a newly issued patent covers a far more ambitious scheme, involving storage compartment vehicles that can roam the sidewalks to make multiple deliveries along their routes.

As described in the patent application published today, Amazon’s proposed SCVs could pick up items for return as well.

If the plan is fully implemented, it could address the “last mile” or “final 50 feet” challenge for delivery systems by having customers come out to the sidewalk, tap the required security code on their smartphones, and open up the right doors to grab the items they’ve ordered.

There’s no guarantee that we’ll see treaded SCVs roaming the street anytime soon. Amazon says its patent applications explore the full possibilities of new technologies — but those inventions don’t always get turned into new products and services as described in the applications. Sometimes the inventions never see the light of day. (Just ask Jeff Bezos about the airbag-cushioned smartphone he invented.)

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AI helps NASA get ahead of solar superstorms

Solar flare
An extreme ultraviolet image of the sun, captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, shows an X9.3 flare erupting at lower right during a solar storm in 2017. (NASA / Goddard / SDO Photo)

If the sun throws out a radiation blast of satellite-killing proportions someday, Amazon Web Services may well play a role in heading off a technological doomsday.

That’s the upshot of a project that has NASA working with AWS Professional Services and the Amazon Machine Learning Solutions Lab to learn more about the early warning signs of a solar superstorm, with the aid of artificial intelligence.

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Patent combines self-driving vehicles and drones

Self-driving drones and vehicles
A diagram accompanying Amazon’s patent application shows how a self-driving ground vehicle and a self-flying drone would work together to make a package delivery. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

For a long time, Amazon has been looking into applications for self-driving vehicles — and testing fleets of self-flying drones for making package deliveries. So it only makes sense that the Seattle-based online retailing giant would meld those vehicles for a warehouse-to-doorstep delivery system virtually untouched by human hands.

In a patent published today, Amazon inventors Hilliard Bruce Siegel and Ethan Evans describe a system that has autonomous ground vehicles transport packages to a customer’s neighborhood — perhaps even the street in front of the customer’s door — and coordinate the doorstep delivery with a drone.

Both types of robo-carriers would be in contact wirelessly with a central computer network that would manage the operation. The ground vehicle could be directed to head over to a fulfillment center, pick up shipments and plot a course for deliveries. Drones could flit back and forth to drop off packages and charge up at the vehicle.

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