Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

Self-driving vehicles have yet to hit the road in a major way, but Amazon already is exploring the technology’s potential to change how your packages are delivered.

Amazon is the nation’s largest online retailer, and its decisions not only turn heads but influence the entire retail and shipping industries, analysts say. That means any foray into the self-driving arena – whether as a developer or customer – could have a significant effect on the technology’s adoption.

Amazon has assigned a dozen employees to determine how it can use the technology as part of its business, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. It’s unclear what shape Amazon’s efforts will take or how far along they might be, although the company has no plans to create its own vehicles, according to the report.

Nevertheless, the Amazon group offers an early indication that big companies are preparing for the technology’s impact.

Transportation experts anticipate that self-driving cars will fundamentally alter the way people get around and the way companies ship goods, changes that stand to disrupt entire industries and leave millions of professional drivers without jobs. The forthcoming shift has attracted the money and attention of the biggest names in the technology and automotive industries, including Apple, Uber, Google, Ford, General Motors and Tesla, among others.

In particular, the technology could make long-haul shipping cheaper and faster because, unlike human drivers, machines do not command a salary or require down time. That would be important to Amazon, whose shipping costs continue to climb as the company sells more products and ships them faster, according to its annual report. Amazon even invested in its own fleet of trucks in December 2015 to give the company greater control over distribution.

Why Amazon's Use of Self-Driving Technology Would Be a Game Changer

If Amazon adopts self-driving technology, it may push others to do the same.

 

“When Amazon sneezes, everyone wakes up,” said Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group, a transportation and logistics advisory firm.

The company said it shipped more than 1 billion items during the 2016 holiday season.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined a request for an interview, citing a “long-standing practice of not commenting on rumors and speculation.” The company’s chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.

Amazon has become something of a pioneer in home delivery, in part by setting the standard for how quickly purchases arrive on your doorstep. The company has begun using aerial drones in an effort to deliver goods more quickly, completing its first successful flight to a customer in the United Kingdom in December. Like self-driving vehicles, drones will need to overcome regulatory hurdles before they’re widely deployed.

In its warehouses, Amazon has used thousands of robots that pull items from shelves and pack them. Last summer, Deutsche Bank analysts found the robots reduced the time to fulfill an order from more than an hour to 15 minutes, according to business news site Quartz. They also saved Amazon about $22 million per warehouse. Amazon acquired Kiva, the company that makes the robots, in 2012 for $775 million.

WD Blue 3D, SanDisk Ultra 3D SSDs With New 64-Layer 3D NAND Technology Launched

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The drives offer 250GB to 2TB storage options
  • Both the SSDs sport 64-layer 3D NAND technology
  • The prices of the SSDs start at $99.99

Western Digital and its subsidiary SanDisk have launched two new solid state drives that boast of 3D NAND technology that essentially allows the company to offer more storage space at less cost. The two SSDs are called WD Blue 3D NAND SATA SSD, and the SanDisk Ultra 3D SSD, and are the first to boast 64-layer 3D NAND technology. The prices of both the SSDs start at $99.99 (roughly Rs. 6,500), and they come with a three year warranty as well.

Other existing 3D NAND SSDs include the Samsung 850 Pro, Samsung 850 Evo, and Crucial MX300, but they all use 32-layer 3D NAND, and not 64-layer. WD claims that its new SSDs are the first to be built with a 64-layer 3D NAND that allows it to reduce costs even further. To elaborate, 3D NAND technology stacks up flash memory cells in multiple layers to allow more cells in the same number of wafer bits. This density increase allows for more storage space at a reduced cost. Both the SSDs sport identical storage spaces and speeds.

The WD Blue 3D and SanDisk Ultra 3D SSDs are offered in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB storage denominations. Both the drives are rated to deliver up to 560MBps of sequential read speeds, and 530MBps of sequential write speeds respectively.

WD Blue 3D, SanDisk Ultra 3D SSDs With New 64-Layer 3D NAND Technology Launched

The only difference between the two drives is that the WD Blue is designed for system builders and general computing, while the SanDisk Ultra 3D SSD is meant for gamers and creative professionals. While there is no tangible timeline announced, WD says to expect the shipping to begin sometime in the third quarter.

“Delivering 64-layer 3D NAND-based SSDs into the PC segment marks a critical step in our ongoing conversion to this new technology, as well as offers long-term benefits for our customers,” said MIke Cordano, president and chief operating officer, Western Digital. “Between our two, strong brands in SanDisk and WD, and their respective loyal customer bases and distribution channels, these advanced SSDs will appeal to a very broad footprint of the computing population that are seeking the benefits of today’s newest technologies.”

Driverless Cars Need Infrared Technology to Be Safe, Says Auto Supplier ZF

Driverless Cars Need Infrared Technology to Be Safe, Says Auto Supplier ZF

Self-driving cars will need multiple detection systems including expensive infrared “lidar” technology if they are to be safe at high speeds, the chief executive of German autos supplier ZF Friedrichshafen said on Wednesday.

Stefan Sommer’s remarks come a week after news that a 2015 Tesla Model S crashed into a trailer while on “autopilot” mode. Tesla has said it was hard for the car’s cameras to identify the white trailer against a bright Florida sky.

“I have no details about the Tesla accident, so I can’t comment on it,” Sommer told a news conference to discuss ZF’s integration of rival TRW.

But he added cameras relying on visual signals alone were insufficient for safe autonomous driving at high speed.

“For autonomous driving, we will need three core technologies: picture processing camera technology, short and long-range radar, and lidar,” Sommer said.

Laser or infrared based lidar technology will help vehicle sensors pick up contours and contrasts of obstacles which normal cameras are unable to detect, particularly in low light situations, he added.

Lidar technology is currently too expensive to be incorporated in mass production vehicles, but investments into the technology will bring economies of scale will likely lower the costs to a manageable level, Sommer said.

Companies working on lidar technology include US-based Velodyne.