Posts tagged with "Amazon"

IRobot to expand from Roomba vacuums and lawnmowers to household helpers with arms

January 13, 2020

Need a little more help around the house? Bedford, Massachusetts-based IRobot, maker of the disc-shaped Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, hopes to have a product on the market within five years that will have arms to load dishes, pick up clothes, or bring food from kitchen to table, The Boston Globe reports.

Indeed, prototypes of the arms have been produced in the told the Globe in an interview on the sidelines of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week. IRobot’s main new hardware launch for 2020 will be its Terra lawnmower.

The company, which has been in business for 20 years, previously developed robotic-arm technology for its military business unit. The company sold that business in 2016 but kept the arm assets.

At the time, the company didn’t know how to adapt the technology for mainstream use, Angle said, but new advancements in computer vision and the ability for robots to map out a person’s home make such devices possible.

Other technology companies also are working on home robots, including Amazon and Samsung Electronics, according to the Globe—but so far they are focusing on devices with video conferencing and voice assistants, rather than the ability to actually perform physical tasks.

The trade war between the U.S. and China could put a damper on iRobot’s ambitions in the near term. Angle said it’s had a “negative impact” on business. “We are having to scale back R&D and profitability” targets, he said. The company started shipping its lower-cost Roomba vacuum cleaner robots out of Malaysia, instead of China, in November, he said.

Research contact: @iRobot

Let your hair down: Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ TV sequel is casting very hirsute actors

December 30, 2019

If you have hair in places where most people don’t, you might have a shot at a role on a television series! The casting agents behind Amazon’s coming Lord of the Rings production are seeking “hairy, hairy people” with “wrinkles and lots of them, please” to play orcs, who are the foot soldiers of the Dark Lords’ armies, according to a report by Canoe.

The new show—which already is one of the most highly anticipated series in the production pipeline—has already received its season two renewal, Tom’s Guide reports, although there’s no official premiere date yet for season one.

There’s no such thing as a bad hair day on this set: The Independent reports that a casting call said potential actors could be  super short (under 5 feet) or super tall (think: 6-foot-5) with unique “character faces” and “hairy, hairy people of all ages and ethnicities.”

It continues: “HAIR HAIR HAIR – if you have natural red hair, white hair, or lots and lots of freckles.”

In addition, the casting agents would be open to “stocky, mean-looking bikers” and circus performers “who can juggle, Canoe says.

Truck driver Justin Smith told The Wall Street Journal  that he answered the casting call—emphasizing  that he’ “perfect,” because “I’ve got more than missing teeth; I’ve got none. I’m short,and I’ve got red hair.” Smith is still waiting for an audition callback.

Set as a prequel to the film series, the TV show will star Joseph Mawle, Markella Kavenagh, and Ema Horvath. Mawle—likely most well-known for playing Benjen Stark on HBO’s Game of Thrones—will have a starring role, Variety confirmed in October.

Research contact: @Canoe

Watch out! Glitches in cheap smartwatches may allow strangers to track children

December 12, 2019

While kids who wear smartwatches can keep in closer touch with their parents during the day, unfortunately, mom and dad may not be the only ones who are tracking their children’s activities. Security researchers have discovered vulnerabilities in cheap smartwatches for children that make it possible for strangers to override parental controls and follow kids, according to a report by Bloomberg.

Rapid7, a Boston-based cybersecurity firm, purchased three smartwatches on Amazon.com, costing from $20 to $35, according to Deral Heiland, research lead for IoT Technology at the company. He said the models—GreaSmart Children’s SmartWatchJsbaby Game Smart Watch, and SmarTurtle Smart Watch for Kids— were picked randomly from dozens for sale on Amazon and marketed as appropriate for grade school-aged kids.

According to the Bloomberg report, all three devices offer location tracking, messaging, and chat features. They were manufactured in China and shared nearly identical hardware and software. They also had similar security issues, Rapid7 found.

The watches let authorized users view and change configuration details by texting the watch directly with certain commands. In practice, this didn’t work and “unlisted numbers also could interact with the watch,” Rapid7 said in a report.

This security issue could be fixed with a vendor-supplied firmware update, but “such an update is unlikely to materialize, given that the providers of these devices are difficult to impossible to locate,” the cybersecurity firm noted.

The watches have a default password of “123456,” but one of the watch’s manuals doesn’t mention the password, according to the researchers. Another mentioned the password in a blog but not in its printed material. The third doesn’t characterize the numbers as a password nor does it provide instructions on how to change it, according to the researchers.

“Given an unchanged default password and a lack of SMS filtering, it is possible for an attacker with knowledge of the smartwatch phone number to assume total control of the device, and therefore use the tracking and voice chat functionality with the same permissions as the legitimate user (typically, a parent),” Rapid7 said in its report.

An unauthorized user could shut off all the safety protocols a parent had set up on the smartwatch, Heiland told Bloomberg in an interview.

Rapid7 said its researchers weren’t able to contact the sellers nor what they believe is the manufacturer of the watches, a Chinese company called 3g Electronics. The company didn’t respond to a message from Bloomberg News seeking comment.

The GreaSmart Children’s SmartWatch is no longer for sale on Amazon, according to Rapid7. GreaSmart, Jsbaby, SmarTurtle didn’t respond to a requests for comment. Oltec, a merchant that sells the SmarTurtle watch on Amazon, didn’t respond to a message sent via Amazon’s site.

“Consumers that are concerned with the safety, privacy, and security of their IoT devices and the associated cloud services are advised to avoid using any technology that is not provided by a clearly identifiable vendor, for what we hope are obvious reasons,” Rapid7 warned in its report.

Research contact: @business

Fade to black: Does white noise, pink noise, or brown noise lull you to sleep?

September 6, 2019

Finding the right “sleep noise” can mean better sleep for years to come, according to researchers, Real Simple reports. But you have to know what type—or specifically what color of noise—lulls you into a dream state.

White noise-a machine-generated sound that contains all frequencies—gets the most attention from sleep experts. Using a white noise machine, a white noise app, or a white noise fan man improve your sleep dramatically. But if it doesn’t, don’t give up. There are other sleep noises out there that may offer you superior benefits.

“There’s been a lot of confusion about what white noise is,” says Sam Nicolino, a sound engineer, musician, and founder of Adaptive Sound Technologies (ASTI), the Silicon Valley-based firm  behind the LectroFan and Sound+Sleep series of sound machines promising a better night’s rest.

The phrase white noise has come to be broadly applied to all sorts of background noise, but white noise is actually a carefully constructed sound. It doesn’t occur in nature—it’s purely a mathematical construct, Nicolino told Real Simple. Many sounds are similar to white noise, but they’re not quite the same.

The sound can be very staticky. “For most people, it’s very unpleasant,” Nicolino says—so if you tried a white noise machine and truly disliked it, you’re not alone or out of options.

The sleep benefits from white noise don’t come from the sound itself; they come from the sound’s ability to mask other disturbances.

“When you don’t have a sleep machine, every little noise that occurs in your sleep environment has the potential of rousing you,” Rafael Pelayo, MD, a clinical professor in Stanford University’s Sleep Medicine Division, National Sleep Foundation board member, and long-time ASTI adviser, told the news outlet. “Having a pleasing background sound can prevent you from hearing these little disruptive noises.”

White noise is popular because it’s uniform, but what happens when you can’t stand white noise? It may be time to check out pink noise or brown noise.

Pink noise is white noise with fewer high frequencies.

To create pink noise, Nicolino says sound engineers take white noise and filter out high frequencies. “Pink noise sounds kind of like rain,” he says. Like white noise, though, pink noise isn’t exactly like any noise from nature. Listening to a rainfall sound machine isn’t pink or white noise—it’s simply ambient sound recording on a loop.

Sometimes called Brownian noise, Brown noise is white noise stripped of more high frequencies; it consists of lower frequencies than even pink noise.

“Brown noise can sound like a really uneventful ocean surf,” Nicolino told the magazine. It has more bass notes than white noise, making it more pleasant to listen to. And, unlike white and pink noise, brown noise is named for Robert Brown, who discovered Brownian motion (which creates the sound) in 1827, Dr. Pelayo says. (For the grammatically compulsive, this is why Brown noise is often capitalized.) “People seem to prefer the lower-toned sounds,” Dr. Pelayo says.

Most sound machines—such as the sleep fan—emit only one sleep noise. This works if you like the noise, but it can limit options.

However, Real Simple points out, some sound machines, such as the LectroFan from ASTI ($47; amazon.com), offer many different sounds. In creating the sounds, Nicolino says, he and his team extended white, pink, and brown noise to create several different noises, ranging from white noise to a very deep brown noise. This sound machine is, in effect, a white noise machine, a pink noise machine, and a brown noise machine all in one—great for someone who can’t stand staticky white noise or who wants different sounds for different situations.

Beyond the noise itself, you should consider whether the sound machine or app you’re looking at loops. Some—especially those that feature nature recordings—loop the sound, which can disrupt sleep, the magazine advises.

At the end of the day (or night, in this case), it all comes down to personal preference. “People are going to choose a sound simply on what they like,” Dr. Pelayo says. “Once people settle into a sound spectrum that they like, they stick to it.”

Research contact: @RealSimple

End of the road: FedEx to discontinue ground deliveries for Amazon

August 8, 2019

As Amazon continues to offer more products and faster shipments, most of its Delivery Service Partners are continuing to say “How high?” when the Seattle-based company asks them to jump.

But that’s not the case with Memphis-based Federal Express, which until recently had been among the company’s swiftest and most dependable contractors.

In fact, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, on August 7, FedEx announced that it would not renew its contract at the end of this month to deliver Amazon packages through its ground network—essentially severing ties with one of the world’s biggest shippers.

The shipping and logistics company already had discontinued its U.S. air deliveries for the e-commerce giant in June, but had said at that time that it would continue to handle ground deliveries and international shipments. Now just the global business remains.

The moves are evidence of escalating tensions between the longtime partners as the e-commerce giant builds out its own delivery services, the Journal said—including leasing cargo planes, buying trucks, and funding local delivery drivers.

“This change is consistent with our strategy to focus on the broader e-commerce market, which the recent announcements related to our FedEx Ground network have us positioned extraordinarily well to do,” FedEx commented.

The decision has come at a time when Amazon already is planning its holiday deliveries. The e-commerce company will have to find a new way to handle millions of packages ahead of the critical holiday shopping season at the same time it continues looking to speed home deliveries.

The once-staid delivery business has been upended in recent years as consumers buy everything from toilet paper to trampolines online, causing a surge in e-commerce shipments. FedEx and rival United Parcel Service have invested billions of dollars to handle the increased volumes. FedEx recently said it would expand to seven-day home deliveries, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Although Amazon ships millions of packages a day, it spreads the orders among FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service, as well as its own growing delivery operations. FedEx has said Amazon represented 1.3% of FedEx’s total revenue in 2018, or less than $1 billion.

Research contact: @FedEx

Amazon’s Ring to distribute local true-crime news

May 1, 2019

if you work outside the home, until recently you had very few ways to keep track of the workmen, friends, and family who beat a path to your front door—no less, those with criminal intent.

However, Amazon’s March 2018 acquisition of the Ring security system—which comprises outdoor motion-based cameras and a video doorbell that connects to your smartphone—has changed all that. Now, users can view whoever and whatever turns up at their doorway (the good, the bad, and the ugly) in real time.

And now, Fast Company reports, the company is hiring—and not for a tech job or a member of the logistics team, as would be expected. The position (Job ID: 836421) posted on the Amazon website is described as Managing Editor, News.

According to the posting, the Managing Editor, News, “will work on an exciting new opportunity within Ring to manage a team of news editors who deliver breaking [true] crime news alerts to our neighbors.

Obviously, your closest neighbors would want to know if there are folks with criminal intent in the neighborhood—and Amazon is snatching that lucrative beat away from local news provider Patch.

Based on the job description, Fast Company notes, the right candidate will have “deep and nuanced knowledge of American crime trends,” “strong news judgment that allows for quick decisions in a breaking news environment,” and at least three years in management. Hopefully, they aren’t looking for a candidate with three years of management in Internet doorbell news management, because we’re going to guess that person does not exist.

Ring’s Neighbors App would be the perfect distribution network for such news. According to the Ring website, it already provides “real-time crime and safety alerts from your neighbors, law enforcement, and the Ring team.”

As Nieman Lab notes, Americans perceive that crime is rising even when it’s not. A 2016 Pew survey found that only 15% of Americans believed (correctly) that crime was lower in 2016 than it had been in 2008; versus 57% who thought it had gotten worse. True crime stories and apps that turn every person on the street into a potential threat undoubtedly add to the problem.

That said, the more petrified the world is, the more likely you are to buy a crime-fighting doorbell, right?

Research contact: @ring

Amazon to have a presence at Coachella, including pop-up shop and lockers

March 28, 2019

Amazon has plans to set up shop—literally—at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, scheduled for the weekends of April 12-14 and April 19-21 in Indio, California. The online retailer will operate a curated storefront at the festival, offering such must-haves as flower crowns, feather-shape earrings portable fans, sunblock, lip balm, and disposable cameras.

The website also is offering customers the opportunity to shop ahead from the storefront from now through April 11—and have purchases shipped directly to a personal Amazon locker on-site at the festival, Retail Dive reported.

The temporary lockers already are familiar to Amazon aficionados, who already can pick up their orders at 900 lockers nationwide instead of waiting for deliveries. The lockers are located at handy places such as Whole Foods stores, apartment buildings, and college campuses, Retail Dive notes.

This is the first year that Amazon will have either a pop-up shop or lockers at the festival.  ““We want customers to make the most out of their weekend at Coachella,” Patrick Supanc, Amazon worldwide director of lockers and pickup said in a statement, adding. “Bringing the convenience of Amazon lockers to Coachella will help customers focus on their experience instead of worrying about forgetting something at home or having to carry it in with them.”

Shoppers will receive an email when a package is ready for pickup. Items from the Coachella Amazon store also can be shipped to shoppers’ homes.

To celebrate the first-ever appearance of Amazon lockers at Coachella, Amazon is giving away two VIP passes to Weekend 2 of the festival, as well as $3,000 for travel and accommodation. The winner and a guest will get to see their favorite artists and experience an Amazon Locker at Coachella firsthand. Customers interested in entering can visit amazon.com/Coachellagiveaway for more details and the official rules. The winner will be awarded by a random drawing to be held on or about April 6.

YouTube announced earlier this year that it will livestream both weekends of the festival. According to Fortune magazine, in previous years, the site only has streamed the first weekend of the festival. This year, it will add a “curated live experience” from the second weekend, with behind-the-scenes footages, artist vignettes, and a few select performances.

Among the artists to hit the grandstand will be Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Diplo, Kacey Musgraves, Solange, Weezer, and Wiz Khalifa.

Research contact:  amazon.com/coachella

Consumer wallets ‘spring a leak’ as prices soar on diapers, kitty litter, and toilet paper

February 12, 2019

Most of us cut back on everything but the essentials when household prices go up, but our budget remains the same. However, according to a February 10 report by The Wall Street Journal, the cost of staples—including such fundamentals as diapers and cat litter—is expected to increase in 2019, leaving us little choice but to ante up.

Producers of household products, from toilet paper to bleach, are set to raise prices again this year after already hiking prices in 2018, hoping to offset higher commodity costs and boost profits, the financial news outlet says.

New Jersey-based Church & Dwight already has increased prices for about one-third of its products, including Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda, and some OxiClean cleaning products.

“The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight CEO Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week, during which the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits.

What he left out of that statement to financial analysts was that it was good news for the company and its stockholders—but not for America’s consumers.

The company is now discussing more price increases with retailers, including for personal-care products, Farrell told analysts Tuesday. Those brands include Nair, Arm & Hammer Toothpaste, Orajel, Simply Saline, Waterpik, and Viviscal, among others.

Other household names that are planning to release similarly “good” news, according to the Journal, include Procter & GambleColgate-Palmolive, and Clorox, which are raising prices in response to higher costs of raw materials and transportation, as well as unfavorable foreign-currency swings.

For much of the past decade, the Journal notes, price cuts have been far more common than price increases as U.S. companies were mostly reluctant to test consumers’ spending power and brand loyalty in a fragile economic recovery.

When companies tried to raise prices, “they better have had a uniquely strong innovation or be willing to lose market share to competitors,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj told the news outlet.

Adding to the challenge of raising prices is that more shoppers have been switching to store-branded paper towels and discount detergents, or opting for online upstarts such as Dollar Shave Club.

Traditional brands also have been under pressure from big-box retailers such as Costco and discounters like Walmart Inc. and Amazon to keep prices low—pushing the manufacturers to focus on lowering costs in their supply chains or pare back advertising.

Finally, after failing to see success when they tried to combat weak demand by lowering prices, the industry’s biggest player, P&G, shifted its course last summer, announcing it would charge more for several of its brands—and several rivals followed suit, the Journal reports.

The recent price increases are largely playing out in the companies’ favor, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog told the Journal. Sales volumes of household and personal products in the United States. declined 1.4% in January, according to Bernstein’s analysis of data from Nielsen. Dollar sales of those products rose 0.7% in the period, Bernstein said, indicating that the price increases, on balance, are padding the bottom lines at consumer-goods companies.

How consumers will deal with the price hikes long-term remains to be seen.

Research contact: aisha.al-muslim@wsj.com

Home free: Amazon sends gratis samples to its most gung-ho shoppers

January 9, 2019

Axios reported on January 8 that online retail giant Amazon has a “stealth pilot” in progress—testing whether consumer brands such as Maybelline and Folgers can pique consumer interest by sending out free samples.

The brands pay Amazon to ship out their complimentary goodies, based on what the popular website already knows its frequent customers are most likely to buy.

Everyone likes a freebie—and by using samples as “targeted ads,” Amazon is playing on its major strength as a trusted delivery service of everyday goods, Axios said. What’s more, this is a new gambit that Amazon is betting its biggest competitors—Google and Facebook— cannot duplicate.

Indeed, the Seattle-based tech giant has the purchasing data and logistics infrastructure to offer samples of actual products, whereas Facebook and Google currently can only offer display ads or search ads, respectively, for certain kinds of consumer packaged goods brands.

To date, Amazon, itself, has made most of its roughly $5 billion in ad revenue through its own display ads. But the company now says that marrying old-school samples with its customer data will provide brands “a higher likelihood of conversion than display ads,” according to a summer job posting.

With 100 million subscribers to its Prime services alone, Amazon certainly has the numbers and the established long-term relationships with customers who purchase goods regularly, to make this strategy work, Axios pointed out.

“Having this huge installed base of users, or really Prime subscribers, and putting something in the box that people will have a high proclivity for liking — that seems like a brilliant Amazon strategy,” Rich Greenfield, a managing director and media analyst at BTIG Research, told the news outlet.

Samples of new products are sent to customers selected using machine learning based on Amazon’s data about consumer habits, according to recent job postings and details listed on its site.

Right now, Amazon is keeping the pilot project under wraps among its other advertisers, but its legal terms for advertisers include details about how its sample program functions. “No later than the date specified by Amazon, Advertiser will deliver to Amazon at the location(s) designated by Amazon and at Advertiser’s expense, all Samples to be delivered or distributed by Amazon,” the terms say.

Most analysts are bullish on the program, Axios reports. However, there could be privacy concerns.

“Amazon sent me a random coffee sample!” said one Twitter user in August. “Is it because I have like 15 [different] types of coffee in my cart?” A package pictured in the tweet included both Amazon and Folgers branding, and a link to a website devoted to the new coffee offering.

On its website, Amazon promises that privacy conscious consumers will have the option to opt out. But will confidentiality win out over avid consumption? Stay tuned.

Research contact: @rebeccazisser

For ‘the morning after,’ Pedialyte offers Sparkling Rush powder packs

December 31, 2018

If the “merry” and the “happy” have skedaddled from your holiday season as a result of one too many glasses of eggnog or champagne—or a case of the flu—Pedialyte says it has just the solution (literally) in a new drink for the adult market.

The company, a subsidiary of Abbott Laboratories, has launched Sparkling Rush, which it describes as “advanced rehydration with a fizz, with an optimal balance of electrolytes and carbohydrate to prevent mild to moderate dehydration.” Free of artificial colors, the clear rehydration drink comes in grape and cherry effervescent flavors—stored for on-the-go use in convenient powder packs that can be poured into a glass of water and activated in ten seconds.

“The holiday season is unfortunately rife with dehydration pitfalls,” Pedialyte says in a December 19 release. “With flu season in full effect, air travel to visit loved ones, and even those late nights out with friends, you’ve got a recipe for your body to lose more water than it takes in—causing dehydration. Losing water also means losing electrolytes—essential minerals like sodium and potassium that are responsible for maintaining proper fluid levels in your body, balancing your blood’s pH levels, and firing signals to your nerves and muscles. Dehydration can bring on a headache, fatigue, even dizziness, which is no way to celebrate.”

And a glass of tap water won’t do the job nearly as fast, because it won’t provide enough of the electrolytes that your body is missing. What’s more, the company claims, while some people turn to sports drinks for those essential minerals, “the leading ones aren’t optimized for rehydration like Pedialyte. They are higher in sugar and lower in sodium, and may actually make dehydration worse.”

Specifically, the company asserts, “Each Pedialyte product has at least 1,030 milligrams of sodium and no more than 25 grams of sugar per liter; while leading sports drinks contain an average of 460 milligrams of sodium and 58 grams of sugar per liter.

The new product is available at Target and Meijer grocery stores nationwide, as well as online at Amazon

Research contact: @AbbottNews