Amazon knows what you’re going to order

The internet has changed the way we buy things forever, but if Amazon has anything to do with it this is just the beginning. The megaretailer has filed a patent for something its calling “anticipatory shipping”; an algorithm-based technology that starts shipping you goods before you’ve even ordered them.

This might sound like something out of Minority Report, but Amazon’s vast collection of user data enables it to predict consumer demand with a fair level of accuracy. By combining information such as your wish list, previous orders or shopping basket contents with creepier data such as how long your cursor hovers over certain items, the company could anticipate what you want before you even click ‘buy’.

This could involve shipping certain popular products to specific areas before leaving them at nearby depots or on delivery trucks until a customer decides to buy. By then, the product would have already made most of the journey so wouldn’t have far to go to complete its journey.

In theory, this technology could be great for shoppers; imagine if while browsing you saw that the latest box set or headphones you wanted were in your area and available for delivery within hours. But it could go horribly wrong – if the algorithm’s predictions are off Amazon could wind up with a stack of products in the wrong part of its delivery chain and would be forced to discount or gift them to shift the excess.

Equally, companies need to be very careful about using prediction technologies on consumers. This approach can be really exciting to use, with the most successful example being Google Now, which can predict your behavior based on past activities with a surprising level of accuracy.

But if a company’s practices creep you out you’re far less likely to want to use it, even if it’s offering you attractive delivery options on a product you want. It’s all about making the service feel helpful without being invasive, and we’re betting this is something Amazon is pretty good at.

This patent is the latest plan by Amazon to eliminate the last barrier to total retail domination: shipping times. While online retailers have lured a lot of us away from physical shops thanks to factors such as price, the benefit of having an item as soon as you purchase it is the one advantage physical shops have over online stores.

But it seems like Amazon is hell-bent on changing this, with same-day deliveries already implemented in many areas and plans for drone deliveries underway. The company hasn’t said how much time it thinks anticipatory shipping will save, but rest assured if it can shave time off the delivery, it will.

We’re not convinced about anticipatory shipping being the complete solution, but sooner or later a technology will arrive that gives online orders near-instantaneous shipping times, and when that happens online retail’s domination will be complete.


Image courtesy of Luke Dorny.


Mac spyware stole millions of user images

A criminal case brought against a man from Ohio, US has shed more light on a piece of Mac malware, dubbed Fruitfly, that was used to surreptitiously turn on cameras and microphones, take and download screenshots, log keystrokes, and steal tax and medical records, photographs, internet searches, and bank transactions from users.

Source: Ars Technica

Drone swarm attack strikes Russian military bases

Russia's Ministry of Defence claims its forces in Syria were attacked a week ago by a swarm of home-made drones. According to Russia's MoD Russian forces at the Khmeimim air base and Tartus naval facility "successfully warded off a terrorist attack with massive application of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)"

Source: Science Alert

Las Vegas strip club employs robot strippers

A Las Vegas strip club has flown in robot strippers from London to 'perform' at the club during CES. Sapphire Las Vegas strip club managing partner Peter Feinstein said that he employed the robots because the demographics of CES have changed and the traditional female strippers aren’t enough to lure a crowd to the club anymore.

Source: Daily Beast

GM to make driverless cars without steering wheels or pedals by 2019

General Motors has announced it plans to mass-produce self-driving cars without traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals by 2019. “It’s a pretty exciting moment in the history of the path to wide scale [autonomous vehicle] deployment and having the first production car with no driver controls,” GM President Dan Ammann told The Verge.

Source: The Verge

Russia-linked hackers "Fancy Bears" target the IOC

Following Russia's ban from the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics, the Russia-linked hacking group "Fancy Bears" has published a set of apparently stolen emails, which purportedly belong to officials from the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee, and third-party groups associated with the organisations.

Source: Wired

Scientists discover ice cliffs on Mars

Using images provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have described how steep cliffs, up to 100 meters tall, made of what appears to be nearly pure ice indicate that large deposits of ice may also be located in nearby underground deposits. The discovery has been described as “very exciting” for potential human bases.

Source: Science Mag

Ocado unveils dexterous robot that it hopes will work alongside humans

Fears that robots may one day steal humans’ jobs may be eased a little depending on how the world receives a prototype collaborative robot (cobot) designed to work alongside maintenance technicians.

The EU funded SecondHands project, which kicked off in 2015, aims to build a collaborative robot to offer support to maintenance technicians working in the warehouse of the online supermarket Ocado.

The prototype cobot, revealed today, which has the official title ARMAR-6, will eventually act as a second pair of hands that will assist engineering technicians when they are in need of help, and will be capable of handling tools or manipulating objects like ladders, pneumatic cylinders and bolts.

“I’ve been here for about seven years now and initially I was hired with a view to getting robots to pack the shopping,” said Graham Deacon, Robotics Research team leader at Ocado Technology.

“Things have moved on a bit since then and one of the things that we’re working on now is a project called SecondHands. This is developing a robot to assist our maintenance technicians. It’s called SecondHands because it’s literally meant to be a second pair of hands for the technician to get their work done.”

Ocado’s cobot was developed collaboratively by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Sapienza Università di Roma and University College London.

Images and video courtesy of Ocado

Each research team, together with Ocado’s own robotics department, contributed a different component that when put together make up the complete robot (part of me hopes someone shouted ‘It’s Megazord time’ when they were done with their part).

So, for example, KIT took care of the development of the cobot including its entire mechatronics, software operating system and control as well as robot grasping and manipulation skills, while EPFL handled human-to-robot interactions and action skills learning.

Rather than going straight onto the warehouse floor, the cobot has been delivered to the Ocado Technology robotics research lab where experiments to evaluate the integrated research components from all project partners is currently taking place.

Ocado hasn’t given any indication yet when we can expect the cobot to be working alongside its human brethren.