NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon said Friday that it is buying self-driving technology company Zoox, which is developing an autonomous vehicle for a ride-hailing service that people would request on their phones.
Seattle-based Amazon did not disclose how much it is paying for Zoox, which was founded six years ago in Foster City, California. Analysts pegged the purchase price at over $1 billion.
The online retailing giant said Zoox will keep running as a separate business and continue to develop its own autonomous vehicle.
“We’re excited to help the talented Zoox team to bring their vision to reality in the years ahead,” said Amazon’s Jeff Wilke, who runs the company’s retail business.
The deal could drive Amazon into an entirely new business: transporting people from one place to another. But some industry analysts think Amazon’s ultimate goal is to repurpose the Zoox vehicle for its core business, delivering packages to shoppers.
“My guess would be in the near term that Amazon is probably more interested in taking that platform and adapting it as an alternative or complement to its existing fleet of delivery vans,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Guidehouse Insights, who follows autonomous vehicle developments.
Abuelsamid said Zoox has a good autonomous system and was planning to deploy a ride-hailing service next year. It’s also building its own vehicle that can travel in two directions — both ends can be the front and the back — making it ideal for urban deliveries. He sees Amazon converting the small vehicles into mobile lockers that would stop at delivery sites for people to pick up packages.
Amazon didn’t directly answer a question about whether autonomous package delivery is its goal, but said Zoox would “continue working toward their mission to transform mobility as a service by developing a fully autonomous, purpose built vehicle.”
The company cautioned that widespread use of autonomous vehicles is still years away and will require a substantial capital investment in a crowded field. The deal puts Amazon, which has grown rapidly from its start as an online bookseller 25 years ago, in competition with Google’s self-driving technology spinoff called Waymo, and General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit.
Autonomous delivery would fit with Amazon’s plans to deliver more of its packages on its own and rely less on UPS and the U.S. Postal Service. In recent years it has expanded its fleet of planes, built package sorting hubs at airports and launched a program that lets people start businesses that deliver packages in vans stamped with the Amazon logo.
The investment could complement the $700 million that Amazon put into electric vehicle startup Rivian in 2019. Rivian, with operations in suburban Detroit and California, has a contract to make 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon. The company also has a factory in Normal, Ill., with extra capacity that could be used to build the Zoox vehicles for Amazon, Abuelsamid said.
Amazon’s acquisition changes the landscape in the autonomous vehicle business by bringing in a deep-pocketed competitor, Abuelsamid said. It increases pressure on smaller companies that are building delivery vehicles, he said.
The Zoox acquisition isn’t Amazon’s first foray into autonomous vehicles. Early in 2019, it joined other investors in a $530 million stake in Aurora Innovation. Aurora recently has focused on a self-driving system for heavy trucks.
Amazon has used autonomous technology to get orders to shoppers: self-driving robots shuffle products around its warehouses and a cooler-sized robot with six wheels has delivered orders in a Seattle suburb. It’s also working on self-piloted drones that fly small goods to customers’ homes.
The deal comes at a time when the power of Amazon and other technology stalwarts such as Google, Facebook and Apple have drawn increasing scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers and antitrust regulators. The pandemic-stricken economy is making it more difficult for startups to raise money to continue work, creating opportunities for the industry’s still-thriving giants to make acquisitions at bargain prices.
Privately held Zoox received $990 million in funding from investors, according to Crunchbase, which tracks investments in startups.
By JOSEPH PISANI and TOM KRISHER AP Business Writers
AP Technology Writer Michael Liedtke contributed from San Ramon, California. Krisher reported from Detroit.
Didi pushes back on IPO rumors
Famous Beijing-based giant Didi denied any allegations of plans to go private in a bid to satisfy the Chinese government amidst latest regulations concerning users’ data security.
After the Wall Street Journal released a report discussing the possibility of Didi going private, the ride-hailing app’s shares increased by approximately 50 percent in Thursday’s pre-market trade.
The company has been targeted by Beijing regulators ever since it made its U.S. market debut about a month ago, followed by several U.S. senators asking its financial markets regulator to launch an investigation concerning the company’s Chinese share listings.
In a statement that came as a reaction to the report, Didi debunked any allegations of going private as it currently switching it focus to cybersecurity.
“The rumors about the privatization of Didi are untrue, and the company is currently actively cooperating with cybersecurity reviews,” Didi said on Chinese social media platform Weibo.
Two days after the Beijing-based firm began trading shares on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Beijing cyberspace supervisory authority ordered Chinese online stores to remove Didi from their app stores under the pretense that it is illegally collecting users’ personal data.
The Chinese authorities’ move influenced the firm’s market value, leading to a sharp drop by around a third ever since Didi raised its initial public offering (IPO) to $4.4 billion a month ago.
Since Didi’s released its IPO on NYSE at the end of June, the Chinese driver service broker’s shares fell drastically in value.
On Thursday, Didi shares finished its U.S. trading day with a rise of 11.3 percent.
Didi, alongside many Chinese Big Tech companies such as Alibaba and ByteDance have been under the Chinese government’s scrutiny regarding their behavior of monopolizing the market to their benefit.
This led to some of the firms’ largest share prices slump in the U.S., Hong Kong, and mainland China’s trading market as China puts the industry under tough scrutiny.
In parallel, Didi follows a comparable business model to its American competitor Ube. The Chinese app had already conquered Uber in a vicious price war in its home market.
Google is battling against a $1 billion legal claim
Google is charging people for their digital purchases in its Play Store through an “unfair and excessive” manner, according to a new legal lawsuit filed against the tech giant.
On behalf of 19.5 million Android phone users in the UK, the legal action is seeking up to $1 billion from Google.
The lawsuit has been filed with the Competition Appeal Tribunal in London by former Citizens Advice digital policy manager Liz Coll, who’s claiming that the 30 percent cut Google takes from digital purchases on its app store is unjust.
“Google created the Android app marketplace and controls it with a vice-like grip,” Coll said, explaining that Google has went against UK and European competition law.
In response, Google defended its case by issuing a statement saying that “Android gives people more choice than any other mobile platform in deciding which apps and app stores they use, in fact most Android phones come preloaded with more than one app store.”
“We compete vigorously and fairly for developers and consumers,” Google noted, mentioning that 97 percent of developers on Google Play don’t pay any service fee at all, which means their apps are free to consumers.
“Less than 0.1 percent of developers are subject to a 30 percent service fee and only when they’re earning over one million dollars, that fee is comparable with our competitors and allows us to constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it,” Google highlighted.
The trillion-dollar tech giant recently decreased its service charge to 15 percent for all app creators making less than $1 million, with only a small group of the most valuable app developers paying 30 percent.
According to Google, the charge allows the company to “constantly reinvest in building a secure, thriving platform that benefits everyone who uses it.”
The $1 billion lawsuit is the latest incident in an ongoing battle with both Apple and Google, as they’re currently under intense scrutiny following Epic Games’ legal action.
Epic argued that the Play Store and Apple’s app store policies and management were against producing fruitful competition, as the American video game and software developer described the two tech giants as “monopolistic.”
For the past years, major tech firms have been in hot water over anti-trust and monopoly charges.
In 2020, ten U.S. states led by Texas, brought legal action against Google over its ad revenue practices, accusing Google with illegally collaborating with the popular social network Facebook.
“As internal Google documents reveal, Google sought to kill competition and has done so through an array of exclusionary tactics, including an unlawful agreement with Facebook, its largest potential competitive threat,” the lawsuit stated.
“This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said regarding Google through a video released on Twitter.
The key question many analysts have been asking is to what extent Google should be given the freedom to charge its services as it sees fit, no matter what the cost is to other developers.
Rick rolls past a billion views on YouTube
When it comes to famous memes from the 2000s, millennials are just never going to give them up.
Anyone who was active on the internet since 2009 surely stumbled upon Rick Astley’s music hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Almost 12 years later, and the music video has exceeded one billion views on YouTube on Wednesday.
For the Generation Z who weren’t surfing the web at that time, the video itself started off as an internet meme under the name “Rick Roll,” which is the most famous prank in the internet’s history.
The prank consisted of luring people to click on a hyperlink that claims to be one thing but turns out to be the red-haired iconic singer’s video “Never Gonna Give You Up.”
The British singer cannot deny the impact the meme had on his music video. According to YouTube, on April Fool’s Day this year, the “Rick roll” generated 2.3 million views.
Following Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” A-ha’s “Take on Me,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Rick Astley’s song is the fourth in line to join the 80’s hits on YouTube.
The 55-year-old singer celebrated the achievement on Twitter, saying in a video “So I’ve just been told that ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ has been streamed a billion times on YouTube. That is mind-blowing. The world is a wonderful and beautiful place, and I am very lucky.”
To celebrate the huge milestone, 2,500 copies of the 7-inch blue vinyl of Astley’s popular song were released. Exclusively signed by the singer himself, the $17 vinyl completely sold out, according to Astley’s official website.
In the past, the singer voiced his perspective on the “Rick roll” meme, saying that he’s completely fine with it.
In a 2008 interview with the L.A. Times, the famous meme figure in every millennial’s childhood said “I think it’s just one of those odd things where something gets picked up and people run with it. That’s what’s brilliant about the internet.”
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