Warehouse Robots Get Smarter With Ant Intelligence



Amazon may have just gotten its claws into Kiva Systems, but there’s more than one company out there looking to automate warehouses with smart little robots. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics, researchers are looking for ways to make warehouse robots smarter and more efficient by getting them to communicate and cooperate like a swarm of ants.

A swarm is just exactly what you want with warehouse robots. There are a lot of them, and they’re all identical and interchangeable, cooperating to complete complex tasks by combining simple actions. The big difference between a swarm of (say) ants and a swarm of (say) robots is that the ants don’t have any high-level control: each ant has its own little tiny brain, and even though ants have specific tasks that they are directed (or bred) to perform, they decide on an individual level how to go about carrying out their instructions.

What Fraunhofer is trying to do is mimic the ant swarm system with robots. For example, instead of having one central computer control the movements every robot (as with Kiva), Fraunhofer’s system utilizes robots that make their own decisions with onboard computers. Each robot communicates with all the other robots in the swarm simultaneously using WLAN, and they use algorithms based on a model for how ants forage for food to cooperatively decide which of them should go where and do what.

The robots don’t need fixed localization points, but instead rely on “integrated localization and navigation technology” (including signal-based location capability, distance and acceleration sensors and laser scanners) to find the most direct routes to their destination without crashing into anything or each other. This makes them very efficient, and it also makes the system easily scalable, since you can introduce new things and the robots won’t freak out.

Scalability, reliability, and flexibility are why swarm robotics has been getting so much attention lately: need a bigger system? Just toss more bots into the mix. Lose a bot to a mechanical problem? It’s not a problem, since another bot just takes over. We’ve seen lots of swarms related to search and rescue (i.e. military) applications, but as far as a way to improve a commercial (or industrial) project, this research seems like a promising way to go.



Amazon announces new tie-in with Discovery Networks…

Below is text from Amazon new content from Discovery Networks:

Dear Customers,

Today we’re announcing our biggest addition yet, bringing nearly 3,000 more titles to Prime Instant Video. We’ve struck a deal with Discovery Networks to bring some of the highest quality, non-fiction, informative and entertaining content about the world to our Amazon Prime customers. Rolling out over the next few weeks are TV shows from Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, and Science. Prime members, at no additional cost, can now stream more than 17,000 titles.

The new titles include hits such as Deadliest Catch, Mythbusters, Man vs. Wild, Dirty Jobs, Gold Rush: Alaska, and Shark Week, TLC series like Say Yes to the Dress and Cake Boss, as well as content like How It’s Made from Science, and The Jeff Corwin Experience from Animal Planet.

Interesting – seems like Discovery has “found” a digital outlet for content – it will be interest to see who else joins in….

New Amazon Locker Service Offers Postal Delivery Options

Amazon’s locker banks have today turned up in New York City, the third location after the company rolled out the lockers in Seattle and London last month. AmazonLocker is a neighborhood self-service pick-up facility that consists of oversized post office boxes installed in a variety of locations such as several Gristedes, Rite-Aid and D’Agostino stores in Manhattan. The service offers an option for people who can’t or prefer not to take delivery of a shipment at their home or office.

While Amazon has remained mum on its test markets, Amazon customers in NYC, Seattle and London may have noticed the Locker option on their shipping page during checkout. When an AmazonLocker location is selected, Amazon delivers the package to a designated locker and sends an email with a six-digit code to unlock the box. Amazon has installed eight locker banks in each city so far.
What city is next? Amazon is not saying, but we’ll keep our fingers crossed that the lockers will come to more locations soon

Amazon Is Building Out Warehouses Like Crazy

Amazon is on a building boom: the company has announced two new fulfillment centers in the last two days, adding a total of more than 2 million square feet.

The new centers are in Phoenix (adding to three others there) and Plainfield, Indiana, and join three other centers announced earlier this year.

During its last earnings call, the company said it would add up to 9 new centers this year, after building out 13 new ones last year.

This is basically good news for Amazon — it means that sales are booming (up 38% in Q2 from the previous year), and that the company is optimistic about the future. But it also means a temporary increase in expenses, which is what drove the stock down after Amazon’s last earnings report.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-is-building-out-warehouses-like-crazy-2011-7?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+typepad%2Falleyinsider%2Fsilicon_alley_insider+%28Silicon+Alley+Insider%29#ixzz1RUb3TK7y

Amazon Drops California In Growing E-Commerce Affiliate Tax Law War

In the ongoing state-by-state battle over tax collection on affiliate website sales, this afternoon Amazon warned thousands of affiliates their revenue streams would be shut off if a tax bill would be signed into law. Mere hours later,Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill, signifying tough times ahead for many online business owners.

States are scrambling for cash, so it’s no surprise they see a pot of gold in e-commerce sales. Brick and mortar sites – such as Wal-Mart – that have failed to grasp the opportunities Amazon created with programs (like Affiliates) are out for blood.

Essentially, certain states have grubbed for tax money by passing laws that expand the definition of physical presence. They are specifically targeting e-commerce sites that work with affiliates – more specifically, websites that partner with Amazon as Affiliates to earn commissions from individual sales.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes the actions of the states to be unconstitutional and that this should be resolved at the federal, not the state level.

Last year Colorado signed a new law that extended nexus to e-commerce affiliates. The law required online retailers like Amazon to give Colorado residents a bill on how much they owe in sales tax on web purchases, and provide summaries of individual web purchases to the state. Amazon responded, as like with California, for better or worse, by cutting off its Colorado affiliates.

Score 1 for Amazon!!!

Can’t Find it on Netflix On-Line? Here’s Why

Reed Hastings has a message for anyone looking for a comprehensive catalog of streaming movies and TV shows: Don’t go to Netflix.

Speaking at the All Things D conference in California, the Netflix founder and CEO celebrated his company’s success and outlined its ambitions, but he also stressed its limitations. In May, Netflix found its share of U.S. broadband traffic was larger than that of the file-sharing service BitTorrent for the first time. And Hastings has plans to launch his streaming service around the world, country by country, starting with Canada.

“We have an opportunity to build a very large global company,” he said. “All of those 5 billion people [with mobile devices] like video.”

But Hastings does not think Netflix can ever afford to make that streaming video selection — Netflix Instant — comprehensive. Despite the growing amount of content that is available for streaming, the company does not expect to have a complete “watch now” library. The licensing fees are simply too pricey for its business model.

“At $7.99 a month, we can’t provide unlimited content,” Hastings said. “We compete for a very specific and small part of the pie. We don’t have everything, but we have a great bargain. That’s what we want the brand proposition to be … Apple and Amazon are very good at being comprehensive.”

Indeed, when an audience member asked Hastings about a specific movie he couldn’t find on Netflix, Hastings testily directed him to pay for it on iTunes or Amazon.

Netflix is facing increasing financial pressure from its providers, who are noting how much profit the service is making from their content. For example, Netflix’s 2008 deal with the Starz network cost $30 million; analysts claim its renewal will cost $200 million, or 6% of Netflix’s revenue. Hastings did not dispute this cost estimate.

The online movie giant may have seemed like it was moving into the content-making business itself after a well-publicized deal in March to make House of Cards with Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher. But Hastings stressed that Netflix was just the distribution arm of that deal. “We’re just a channel,” he said. “The only difference with this content is it’s exclusive.”

How Amazon has outsmarted the music industry (and Apple)

What Apple took away, Amazon has restored.  

I’m talking, of course, about Lala, the pioneering digital music service that Apple purchased in December 2009 and shut down more than a year ago. The first thing Apple did, almost immediately after purchasing the company, was to disable its Music Mover feature, which allowed Lala members to upload their personal music collections to a cloud-based locker where they could play it from any web browser.

Yesterday, with the double-barreled launch of its Cloud Drive storage service and the tightly linked Cloud Player, Amazon brought that capability back to a mass audience. They’ve executed their strategy brilliantly, and they’ve painted the recording industry and their archrival Apple into a corner.

As far as I’m concerned, Amazon just moved the needle significantly on the music industry. Yes, the recording companies are whining already. I have no doubt that legal teams from all of the major record labels are in war-room mode right now. But their legal case is nonexistent.   Why? No sharing? No legal case.

For the full story:


More Interesting Amazon Stats –


Amazon’s basic stats:
– $34.2 billion in revenue in 2010 vs. $24.5 billion in 2009
– 55% of sales in 2010 were from North America vs. 52% in 2009
– 46% growth rate of sales in North America up from 26% in 2009 (Zappos acquisition also helped a lot)
– 43% of global sales were media – first time media was less than 50%
– 121 million customers worldwide (estimate quoted in Businessweek) – only?

Amazon has doubled its share of online sales in many categories – 26.8% share of power tool accessories in 2010 vs. 12.4% share
in 2005 (according to TraQline)
– 35% share of kitchen electrics in 2010 vs. 17% in 2005
– 36.7% share of portable power tools in 2010 vs. 21.8% in 2005

So how many Kindles are out there?  This one remains a mystery….