Robots, drones, satellites, and Amazon’s vision for the future of automation and humanity

Jeff Wilke, CEO of Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer Business, shows the company’s delivery drone at an Amazon conference in Las Vegas this week. (Amazon Photo / Jordan Stead)

Amazon gave a detailed look at its new warehouse robots and delivery drones, discussed its plans for a satellite constellation, and talked about the future of artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation during a multi-day conference in Las Vegas this week.

The underlying message: the robots are coming, but they’re here to help. And don’t worry, they won’t get tangled up in your clothesline when trying to deposit a package to your backyard.

That was Amazon’s assertion, at least, in a series of announcements and demonstrations at re:MARS, which stands for machine learning, automation, robotics and space. The event was a public version of the smaller, private MARS event that Amazon has held for the past few years (hence the “re” in re:MARS).

GeekWire’s aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle was in Las Vegas covering the event, and he joins us with a recap on this episode of the GeekWire Podcast.

Amazon’s Jeff Wilke, CEO of the company’s Worldwide Consumer Business, made one of the biggest announcements of the week, unveiling a fully-electric drone that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under 5 pounds in less than 30 minutes. Wilke also showed the array of different sensors that are built into the drones, in an effort to ensure safety during deliveries.

Wilke promised the crowd, “You’re going to see this new drone delivering packages to customers in months.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had an eventful week, trying out the latest robotics on the show floor, and coping with an animal rights protester who rushed the stage during his re:MARS session.

He also talked for the first time in public about the company’s plans to launch its own satellite broadband service, Project Kuiper, expected to compete with services from companies including SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat and LeoSat Technologies

“Access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward,” Bezos said, explaining the Project Kuiper initiative. “It’s also a very good business for Amazon because it’s a very high-capex [capital expenditure] undertaking. It’s multiple billions of dollars of capex. … Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that, if they work, can actually move the needle.”

Listen to the podcast above or subscribe to GeekWire in your favorite podcast app. Watch Amazon’s video highlights of Bezos’ talk below, and see a video of the protester’s interruption above, provided by a GeekWire reader.