An Amazon Go location in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Amazon today opened its 12th Amazon Go store, and its first in New York City. But there’s something about this iteration of the cashier-less convenience concept that stands out from the rest: It takes cash. The New York store is the first to accept paper money. Amazon last month at Amazon Go stores as legislators across the country push for laws that ban cashless retail. New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia all have laws that require retailers to accept cash and other lawmakers are . Advocates for the poor say cashless retail is a discriminatory practice. The concern is for people without bank accounts — an estimated 6.5 percent of American households that don’t have access to financial services . “Adding more payment methods enables more customers to shop in the store. And that’s great for customers and great for us,” Cameron Janes, Amazon’s vice president for physical stores . Accepting cash is an interesting hedge against Amazon Go’s signature “Just Walk Out” technology. It brings back the possibility of lines that come from employees ringing up items. But it also opens up the store to more potential customers, including those who don’t have smartphones that can power the Amazon Go app. Customers scan a unique QR code within the app before passing through a set of glass doors, similar to the gates Amazon employees go through when entering their office buildings every morning. Once they’ve picked up their items, customers just leave the store and Amazon Go’s systems automatically debit their accounts for the items they take, sending the receipt to the app. Business Insider shopped the New York store without the app. There was no signage or directions about paying with cash. The reporter had to flag down an employee to get through the gates. Then when he was done shopping, an employee was waiting to scan items with a at the “cash cart.” The 1,300-square-foot store in Lower Manhattan features the standard combination of items made by Amazon, including meal kits, and items from local providers. On its opening day the store appeared to be popular among the financial set that works nearby. So many finance bros in the New York Amazon Go store right now. Vests everywhere — Lauren Thomas (@laurenthomasx3)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser) Amazon forever altered the retail landscape when it introduced the Prime two-day shipping program 14 years ago. The Seattle company has upped the ante again, and cutting delivery time in half on millions of items just as the competition was starting to catch up. Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky caught analysts and reporters off guard with the surprising one-day delivery announcement in the middle of the company’s . Amazon had not previously acknowledged this push, though Olsavsky said the company has already “started down this path.” “We’re currently working on evolving our to be a free one-day shipping program,” Olsavsky said. “We’re able to do this because we’ve spent 20-plus years expanding our fulfillment and logistics network. But this is still a big investment and a lot of work to do ahead of us.” Amazon just “turned the dial significantly in April,” so there’s still plenty of unknowns about ramping up one-day shipping, Olsavsky said. The company said it would share more at the end of this quarter. Read on to learn about the key takeaways from Amazon’s big announcement. (Amazon Photo) One-day shipping is going to cost a lot: Olsavsky said Amazon will spend $800 million during this quarter alone on the new shipping initiative. Amazon has been the last few quarters, but speeding up shipping could put an end to that trend. Amazon already spends a ton on shipping — $7.3 billion in the first quarter, up 21 percent over a year ago. With the push to cut delivery time, keep an eye on the company’s shipping costs over the next few years. Amazon wants to keep one-day Prime free for customers: Speeding up delivery is “directly going to be a cost that we bear,” said Olsavsky. Prime Now and other accelerated delivery programs beyond the core two-day shipping come with an extra cost, and it looks Amazon won’t impose any additional fees for one-day shipping. “We’re going to continue to offer same day and Prime Now selection in an accelerated basis,” Olsavsky said. “But this is all about the core, free, two-day offer evolving into a free one-day offer.” USPS and other partners will play an important role: Today, Amazon relies heavily on delivery partners such as USPS, UPS and FedEx, as well as its network of contractors to drop off packages. Though rumors have persisted that Amazon will someday cut out the third-party delivery partners, the move to one-day shipping means it is going to need those carriers more than ever. “We’re going to be using all of the available levers that we have right now,” Olsavsky said. Later in the call, Olsavsky said: “We have a network tuned to two-day delivery right now, so we do need to build more one-day capacity with our transportation partners. But we have a head start and we are moving quickly.” A busy year ahead: Amazon didn’t say when the transition to one-day shipping will be complete but hinted that a lot of that work will be done this year. The company expects to “make steady progress quickly and through the year.” Most of the spending this quarter is focused on speeding up Prime delivery in North America, but Olsavsky said the initiative will go global. This month alone, Amazon “significantly expanded” the number of items and zip codes eligible for one-day delivery. However, Olsavsky cautioned that such a major shift in its supply chain won’t happen overnight. “It’s a significant step and it will take us time to achieve. And we want to ensure that we have a good delivery experience for our customers as we evolve this offer,” Olsavsky said. Two-day shipping programs and “order online and pick up in store” initiatives have become common among big retailers. (Walmart Photo) Raising the bar again: Thanks to Amazon Prime, consumers now expect fast shipping, and many rival retailers have responded. Companies including Target and Walmart have instituted their own two-day shipping initiatives and turned their stores into mini-warehouses for popular programs that let customers order online and pick up in store. reported that “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” saw 50 percent year-over-year growth during the 2018 holiday season. Amazon set the standard for fast shipping with Prime, and it looks like it will try to do that again. Olsavsky talked up the program as a way to increase convenience for the customer, which could unlock more purchases. “Although we have many items that are available in one to two hours and also same-day, the vast majority of our selection is available to you in two days,” Olsavsky said. “If we get that to one-day, we literally cut it in half … and we think that will open up a lot of potential purchases and will open up convenience to those customers.”
Ray tracing has been a major topic of conversation at both GDC and GTC so it seems fitting that that the overlapping conventions would both kick off with an announcement that touches both industries. Today at GTC, Nvidia announced that it has built-out a number of major partnerships with 3D software makers including some apparent names like Adobe and Autodesk to integrate access with Nvidia’s RTX ray-tracing platform in their future software releases. The partnerships with Unity is perhaps the most interesting, given the excitement amongst game developers to bring real-time ray tracing to interactive works. Epic Games had already announced Unreal Engine 4.22 support for Nvidia RTX ray-tracing, and it was only a matter of time before Unity made the plunge as well, but now the tech is officially coming to Unity’s High Definition Render Pipeline (HDRP) today in preview. The technology is all focused on how games render lighting more realistically, showing how light interacts with the atmosphere and the objects it strikes. This technique has already been in use elsewhere but rendering all of this can be pretty resource-intensive which has made the advancements of the past few years to cement this as a real-time system such an entrancing prospect. Nvidia has certainly been tooting the horn of this technology, but there have been some doubts whether this is just another technology that’s still a few years out from popular adoption amongst game developers. “Real-time ray tracing moves real-time graphics significantly closer to realism, opening the gates to global rendering effects never before possible in the real-time domain,” a Unity exec said in a statement. In their announcement, Nvidia boasted that their system enabled “ray traced images that can be indistinguishable from photographs” that “blur the line between real-time and reality.” While the prospect of added realism in gaming is certainly something consumers will be psyched about, engine-makers will undoubtedly also be promoting their early access to the Nvidia tech to customers in other industries including enterprise.
Pilot projects will send drones where no drones have gone before. (Aerix Photo) The U.S. Department of Transportation has selected 10 state, local and tribal governments to oversee pilot projects that will go where no drones have gone before. But this time around, Amazon has been grounded. The projects are meant to help set a course for ever-expanding drone operations over the next three years. “Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao . Under the experimental program — known as the , or UAS IPP — officials at the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies spent months reviewing 149 proposals submitted in response to . The process required governmental agencies to choose up teams and seek the federal government’s go-ahead to try out modes of operation that are usually off-limits to small-sized drones, such as flying beyond an operator’s line of sight, operating after dark or flying over large groups of uninvolved people. Such modes are seen as essential for widescale commercial applications such as the package delivery systems that Amazon, Walmart and other retailers are working on. In an emailed statement, Amazon said it’s not working with any of the 10 teams that were selected in the first round for the UAS IPP program. “While it’s unfortunate the applications we were involved with were not selected, we support the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” said Brian Huseman, vice president of Amazon public policy. “At Amazon Prime Air, we’re focused on developing a safe operating model for drones in the airspace, and we will continue our work to make this a reality.” Amazon has been conducting its testing program under other regulatory frameworks. It has drone development centers and test sites in a variety of countries, including the U.S. as well as Britain, Austria, France and Israel. Here are the , and the focus of each project: Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Okla.: Test extended visual line-of-sight operations. Team partners include CNN and Green Valley Farms, which in Oklahoma. City of San Diego: Test drone operations for border protection and package delivery of food, with a secondary focus on international commerce, surveillance and interoperability with autonomous vehicles and smart-city systems. Partners include Uber, Qualcomm, Matternet and the University of California at San Diego’s hospital system. Virginia Tech – Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, Va.: Facilitate package delivery in rural and urban settings, and test technologies including detect-and-avoid, identification and tracking, radar systems and mapping tools. Partners include NASA, the Virginia Tech Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, Intel, AT&T, Airbus Aerial, State Farm, Dominion Energy, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Alphabet’s Project Wing, which got its start from Google. Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, Kan.: Test operations beyond visual line of sight, and leverage a to facilitate precision agriculture operations. Partners include local agencies and universities. Lee County Mosquito Control District, Fort Myers, Fla.: Test low-altitude aerial applications to monitor and control the district’s mosquito population. Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, Tenn.: Test techniques to inspect FedEx aircraft. Conduct autonomous flights to support airport operations such as perimeter security surveillance and delivery of packages, including airplane parts. Partners include FedEx, Intel and units of General Electric. North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, N.C.: Test localized packaged delivery, including drone flights over people, beyond visual line of sight and at night. The test will . Partners include , , and . North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, N.D.: Test technologies to expand drone operations at night and beyond visual line of sight. Partners reportedly include. City of Reno, Nev.: Focus on the time-sensitive delivery of lifesaving medical equipment, such as medical defibrillators, in urban and rural environments. Partners include FedEx and , which has previously conducted drone delivery experiments in the Reno area with 7-Eleven and Pizza Hut.. University of Alaska at Fairbanks: Test drone operations for inspections, remote surveying and public safety under harsh conditions. The Transportation Department says more demonstration projects may be given the go-ahead in future rounds.