Amazon Go store raises privacy questions

Amazon Go store
The first Amazon Go store, in Seattle, is open only to the company’s employees for now, prior to a scheduled public opening early next year. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

By Todd Bishop and Alan Boyle

As an online retail giant, Amazon can use its engineering prowess and the vast capabilities of the digital world to track and analyze how customers use its site.

So it’s only natural that the company, in its first brick-and-mortar convenience store, would want to create a real-world version of the same thing.

The new Amazon Go store logs customers in when they walk through the door, knows instantly when they pick an item up from the shelf, automatically tallies what they put in their carts or shopping bags, uses past purchases to improve their shopping experience, and automatically charges their accounts when they walk out — no need for checkout lines — making it nearly frictionless to buy something.

In short, it’s a physical manifestation of

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Remote-controlled robots roam the office

Image: Deepak Savadatti on robot
Deepak Savadatti, the chief operating officer for BlueDot, carries on a conversation in the startup’s Bellevue office via a BeamPro telepresence robot. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

BELLEVUE, Wash. – In a sixth-floor executive suite here, Deepak Savadatti’s robot has its own office with a view.

Savadatti himself may be sitting in front of a computer hundreds of miles away, at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He may be dialing in from a smartphone on the road, or at the beach. No matter where he is, his face pops up on the robot’s screen, his voice issues forth from a speaker, and he can even roll around the office to look out the window.

“My kids are surprised that this is working out so well,” Savadatti told GeekWire via robot. “It’s as real as it’s going to get. The very fact that I can move in and out gives me a lot of freedom to be able to have a real workday.”

It’s close to the ultimate in telecommuting: Savadatti’s telepresence robot lets him do his job as the chief operating officer of Bellevue-based BlueDot, the “innovation factory” founded by veteran tech entrepreneur Naveen Jain, while he’s sitting in a home office hundreds of miles away.

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Tesla, SolarCity strike $2.6 billion merger deal

Tesla and Gigafactory 1
A Tesla electric car is parked on an overlook with a view of Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 facility in Nevada. (Credit: Tesla Motors)

The boards of directors for Tesla and SolarCity, two companies that have billionaire Elon Musk as a top executive, have given the green light for a $2.6 billion merger.

The two companies said the combination would create “the world’s only vertically integrated sustainable energy company,” bringing together Tesla’s electric car line and its home battery offerings with SolarCity’s power-generating business.

“By joining forces, we can operate more efficiently and fully integrate our products, while providing customers with an aesthetically beautiful and simple one-stop solar + storage experience: one installation, one service contract, one phone app,”Tesla and SolarCity said in a joint press release.

The approvals came after a review of Tesla’s merger proposal, the terms of which were laid out publicly last month. Musk helped orchestrate the deal, but he stayed out of the review or the board vote to head off conflict-of-interest concerns. He serves as the CEO of Tesla, and he’s the chairman of SolarCity as well as the biggest shareholder of both companies.

In a tweet, Musk emphasized that his privately held space venture, SpaceX, does not figure in the deal and would never merge with Tesla.

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Startup to build rockets with ‘zero human labor’

Two engineers with experience at Blue Origin and SpaceX have raised almost $10 million for their own rocket startup, Relativity Space, which promises to build orbital rockets “with zero human labor.”


The funding rounds are described in two documents filed in May and this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The first filing reports that $1.1 million in equity was sold to investors. The second filing serves as a new notice of $8.4 million in equity sold, out of a $9.6 million offering.

The filings indicate that Relativity Space is based in Seattle, but in response to an email inquiry, the company declined to say anything further about its location, its business plan or its investors. “We are entirely in stealth mode and will comment more when we are ready,” the company said.

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Less ugh, more yay on Amazon Prime Day

Image: Amazon Prime cat
Cute kitten or Exploding Kittens on Amazon Prime Day? You decide. (Credit: Amazon via Twitter)

Amazon says its second annual Prime Day outdid the first one on the sales front – and although some Twitter users reported “Add to Cart” fails, the social-media metrics for Tuesday’s shopping extravaganza showed improvement as well.

At least that’s the verdict from Adobe Digital Insights, which cites figures that are at least as solid as Amazon’s sales report. The assessment is based on more than 4 million blips that were aggregated from blogs, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Reddit, Foursquare and other sources in July 2015 and July 2016.

Check out the five top takeaways on GeekWire.


Jet engines join the ‘Internet of Things’

Image: Jet engine
Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB jet engine is prepared for delivery. (Credit: Rolls-Royce)

Soon the “Internet of Things” will be keeping watch on jet engines, refrigerators and freezers, factory floors and more, thanks to a series of partnerships announced by Microsoft at the Hannover Messe industrial fair in Germany.

The applications will take advantage of the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite to gather data from industrial products, and the Cortana Intelligence Suite to look for trends and figure out how to improve performance.

For example, Rolls-Royce will incorporate those software tools into its TotalCare maintenance services for its aircraft engines. The data sets will include engine health readings, air traffic control information, route restrictions and fuel usage.

Cortana will look for anomalies and trends in the data, and provide feedback that should help Rolls-Royce improve the engines’ performance and increase fuel efficiency.

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Are you getting paid more than Einstein?

Image: Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein works at the blackboard during a lecture in 1921. (F. Schmutzer via Wikipedia)

This week’s Parade magazine lets you compare your pay with the annual earnings of a Seattle bridge operator ($53,575) or a Baltimore street-corner astronomer ($6,423). But how does your salary stack up against what Albert Einstein or Marie Curie made back in the day?

Stephen Pritchard, a content marketer for a London-based job search site called Adzuna, calculated the inflation-adjusted salaries for Einstein, Curie and nine other famous scientists. The results suggest that Isaac Newton should have asked for a raise.

“it’s worth bearing in mind that these reported salaries come from different stages in the scientists’ careers,” Pritchard wrote in a blog posting. “Einstein’s genius was well-established when he arrived at Princeton University, for example, while Newton was almost 20 years away from publishing his theory on gravity. And of course, while it’s interesting to compare the salaries of some of history’s great scientists, stating how much money from the 17th century is worth in the 21st century has its problems.”

Check out the infographic on GeekWire.


Alaska Air is buying Virgin America for $2.6B

Virgin America and Alaska Airlines jet tails
Virgin America and Alaska Air Group confirmed their merger plans. (Credit: Alaska Air)

Alaska Air Group confirmed reaching a $2.6 billion deal to buy Virgin America after a bidding war with JetBlue Airways.

“This was a hard-fought competition, and we were very happy to come away as the successful bidder,” Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden told reporters today.

Virgin America President and CEO David Kush said he was also pleased with the deal. “The price paid is a big win for our shareholders,” he said.

The deal involves a cash purchase of Virgin America’s shares at $57 each, which is a 47 percent premium over Friday’s closing price. The merger was approved by the boards of both airlines, but still must face U.S. regulatory approval. That’s expected to be worked out by the end of the year.

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Alaska Air closes in on Virgin America deal

Image: Alaska Airlines jet
A smiling Eskimo graces the tail of an Alaska Airlines jet. (Credit: Alaska Air)

Seattle-based Alaska Air Group is close to a $2 billion deal to purchase Virgin America, beating out a rival bid from Jet Blue Airways, The Wall Street Journal reported April 2.

The Journal’s report was based on information from unnamed sources said to be familiar with the matter. Those sources stressed that there was no guarantee Alaska would clinch the deal. An announcement could come as early as April 4, they told the Journal.

U.S.-based Virgin America is separate from Virgin Atlantic, a larger airline owned by British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. Branson’s holding company owns less than 25 percent of Virgin America, in accordance with federal law. Cyrus Aviation Holdings is the largest investor with about 28 percent of the voting stock.

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