Tag Archives: Amazon

Order things with the push of an Amazon Dash Button

Amazon’s push-to-order buttons are now available for $4.99. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could skip last-minute trips to the grocery store? Instead, what if you were able to order a few items with merely the press of a button? Well, that is now a reality thanks to Amazon.


Given that Amazon first unveiled Dash Buttons on March 31, many speculated that the product was just an elaborate April Fools’ joke. However, they are now available to all Prime members for $4.99 each, with each one linked specifically to brands like Tide, Bounty, Cottonelle, Glad, Gatorade, Wellness Pet Food and Gerber. These buttons enable you replenish household goods immediately without needing to be reminded, not to mention lets you save time by skipping the search process.

How it works is pretty straightforward: You place the adhesive, push-to-order buttons throughout your home where essential items will most likely be found, such as the pantry, laundry room or cleaning closet. Once connected to Wi-Fi, a single touch of a branded button will automatically place an order to your default address using the payment method on file. Amazon then sends an alert to your phone, so it’s easy to cancel should you change your mind.


If you recall, Amazon unveiled a handheld wand last year that was designed to help keep your AmazonFresh shopping list forever up to date and pantry stocked by saying or scanning a desired item. The new system is essentially a simplified extension of that, except all you need to do is tap the specially-marked button for each corresponding product.

The Dash Button is also tied to Amazon’s Dash Replenishment service. Brother printers, Brita water filters and Whirlpool washers and dryers will be among the first to integrate automated or easy ordering into the equipment. For instance, an automatic pet food dispenser made with built-in sensors can measure the amount of pet food remaining in its container and place an order before running out. Device makers can even start using DRS with as little as 10 lines of code. What’s more, Amazon says that this isn’t entirely for manufactures. The company is actually looking to work with device makers of all sizes, including hobbyists.


At the moment, there are 18 different brands participating and eligible goods ranging from toilet paper and diapers to trash bags and pet food. Interested? Head over to its official site here. Whether or not this takes off, one thing is for certain: the Internet of Things will surely influence the next generation of e-commerce. Now pair this with 30-minute drone delivery one day, and that’s convenience!

Amazon proposes designated airspace for drones

This is how Amazon thinks drones should fit into U.S. airspace.

Amazon envisions a future delivery system that can get packages to your doorstep in 30 minutes or less using small unmanned aerial vehicles. Before Prime Air can come to fruition, though, it must first overcome a fair share of regulatory hurdles. To get the ball rolling, the retailer recently laid out a proposal that aims to divide the U.S. airspace into various layers for different categories of drones, all while keeping them away from airplanes.


The plan, which was described by Amazon’s top drone executive at the NASA UTM Convention, would include two different lanes at varying altitudes: one for “low speed localized traffic” below 200 feet and another for “high-speed transit” between 200 and 400 feet in the sky. Meanwhile, the 400-500 feet range would be deemed a “no fly zone,” unless for emergencies.

Right now, the FAA regulates all manned air travel using humans and air traffic towers. However, the latest pitch is part of a broader effort to develop automated systems that would maintain order amid the growing number of drones soaring around U.S. skies. The Amazon vision shares many similarities to NASA’s plan for an automated drone-traffic management system, a project that already has gained interest from more than 100 enterprises and universities.


As The Verge points out, there would also be vehicle-to-vehicle communication, similar to that of autonomous automobiles. The positional data of each drone would be collected by a command station and shared with every other vehicle connected to the network. Access to the different layers of the airspace would be governed by how well a drone can communicate with its pilot, the central network, and other UAVs. If a flying gadget cannot connect to others, it will be required to remain below 200 feet. This new air traffic control system would link drones to traditional aircraft as well.

While it remains unclear as to which organization will steward the project, it appears NASA has taken the lead. The agency has partnered with Verizon on a new program that would enable cell towers to serve as nodes in this system, helping to track drones and exchange critical information between aircraft and fleets. According to The GuardianVerizon is scheduled to introduce a concept for using cell coverage for data, navigation, surveillance and tracking of drones by 2017.


While the future of drone delivery remains up in the air (no pun intended), as more companies collaborate with government agencies, it’s only a matter of time before services like Prime Air become a reality.

[Images: Amazon, The Verge]

Amazon launches a new digital storefront for startups

Amazon Launchpad is a new online marketplace devoted entirely to hardware startups and crowdfunded products.

On their journey from Makerspace to marketplace, arguably one of the biggest challenges a startup will ever have to endure is generating the necessary awareness and translating that into sales. With this in mind, Amazon has rolled out a specialized storefront within its popular website that provides companies just starting out with a dedicated showcase.


Called Amazon Launchpad, the program offers a streamlined onboarding experience, custom pages, a comprehensive marketing package, and access to Amazon’s global fulfillment network, all geared towards helping startups successfully launch their innovations and share their stories with a widespread audience.

With hopes of leveling the playing field for hardware startups, Amazon Launchpad will enable them to overcome many of the challenges associated with introducing new products by using the retail giant’s expertise and infrastructure to establish visibility, and ultimately, drive revenue.

“As the pace of innovation continues to increase within the startup community, we want to help customers discover these unique products and learn the inspiration behind them. We also know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it,” explained Amazon Vice President Jim Adkins. “Amazon Launchpad gives customers access to a dedicated storefront featuring a variety of innovative new products from emerging brands. For startups, we handle inventory management, order fulfillment, customer service, and more, allowing them to focus their efforts on the innovation that results in more cool products.”

At the moment, Amazon is working with more than 25 venture capital firms, startup accelerators and crowdfunding platforms to bring these new businesses into the Amazon Launchpad program. Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator and Indiegogo are a few of the companies that have funded the more than 200 products currently available in the Amazon Launchpad store, which features everything from smart home devices and wearables to travel accessories and beauty items.


Products from startups in the program include the Bluesmart Smart Carry-On Luggage, Sphero 2.0, Myo Gesture Control Armband, eero Home Wi-Fi System, Narrative Clip, Cuff DVB Smart Sport Band, Fenugreen FreshPaper Produce Saver Sheets, Electric Objects EO1 Digital Art Panel, Soma Sustainable Pitcher & Plant-Based Water Filter, Thync Mood-Changing Wearable System, and Casper Mattress, among several others.

“Launchpad makes Amazon an ideal partner for the most innovative young tech companies,” adds Marc Andreessen, Co-Founder and General Partner of Andreessen Horowitz. “It’s yet another way Amazon fosters a real ecosystem of invention and creativity.”

Keep in mind, this isn’t the first time Amazon has developed a storefront for hardware-based startups. Back in March, they launched Amazon Exclusives, a digital storefront that gives customers direct access to innovative new gadgets from up-and-coming brands, Kickstarter projects and other stuff seen on ABC’s hit TV show Shark Tank — all sold exclusively on Amazon.

Want to learn more? Head over to the Amazon Launchpad’s official site here.

Amazon’s new SDK opens up Echo to third-party developers

Developers can now create new skills and capabilities for Alexa, the brain behind Amazon Echo.

Two days after making the Echo wireless speaker available to everyone, Amazon revealed that it wants to make the device’s built-in, cloud-based virtual assistant open to third-party devices as well. In order to do so, the retail giant has announced the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that simplify and expedite the creation of new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa.


With just a few lines of code, developers will be able to easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in a matter of a hours, build entirely new speech-controlled experiences. What’s nice is that no experience with voice recognition or natural language understanding is necessary; instead, Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so a developer doesn’t have to.

According to the company, examples of skills developers can devise with the Alexa Skills Kit include:

  • A hobbyist developer can enable Alexa to access his or her child’s school lunch menu—then, each morning simply ask, “Alexa, ask Ballard Elementary School what’s for lunch today” and decide whether to pack a lunch for the child.
  • A device maker with an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.”
  • A surf report provider can create a new skill for Alexa that lets customers ask for the latest conditions at their favorite break by saying “Alexa, ask Surf Status for my local forecast.”
  • The maker of a smart vacuum cleaner can create a skill for Alexa that lets customers control their vacuum by saying “Alexa, tell the vacuum to start cleaning the living room.”
  • A fitness service can enable Alexa to access a user’s workout history, so a customer can say “Alexa, ask My Fitness how many miles I have run this week.”
  • A baseball fantasy league can make a new skill for Alexa, so managers can simply say, “Alexa, ask Fantasy Baseball to change my lineup and start Felix Hernandez today.”

“When we launched Amazon Echo we immediately heard from developers about the innovative voice experiences they would create if they had access to an SDK,” explained Greg Hart, VP Amazon Echo and Alexa Voice Services. “We’re making the Alexa Skills Kit available to any developer, maker, or general hobbyist that wants to invent on behalf of customers, creating new skills and capabilities. We can’t wait to see what developers are going to invent with this technology.”

Creating an Alexa skill is super quick and easy. Developers simply write cloud-hosted code that interacts with Alexa’s cloud-based APIs to process customer requests. From there, Alexa does all the heavy-lifting to hear, understand, and resolve the customer’s spoken request, and then maps the service call to the developer’s endpoint.

The most basic way to build a skill for Alexa is to use AWS Lambda, an innovative compute service that runs a developer’s code in response to triggers and automatically manages the compute resources in the AWS Cloud, so there is no need for a developer to provision or continuously run servers. Once the code for the new Alexa skill is uploaded, AWS Lambda takes care of the rest, executing the program in response to Alexa voice interactions and automatically managing the compute resources on the developer’s behalf.


Among the notable third-party developers already tinkering around with the platform include Pebblebee, who you may recall from its recent crowdfunding campaign. The hardware startup is employing ASK to enable their customers to track items and check sensors using voice.

“We’ve learned over the past few years that it’s not always intuitive to use a visual app with so many features. Using voice commands simplifies the complexity for customers,” added Daniel Daoura, co-founder and CEO of Pebblebee. “We’re thrilled to use the Alexa Skills Kit to integrate Alexa with Pebblebee’s sensor information, so a customer can simply ask, ‘Alexa, find my keys,’ or ‘Alexa, how warm is the baby’s room?’ or ‘Alexa, is my dog nearby?’”

Others include Citrix’s enterprise Internet of Things platform Octoblu who is using ASK for voice-activated automation of business tasks, as well as AOL who is incorporating the kit to allow customers to listen to AOL daily headlines and articles.

In order to pull this all off, Amazon launched what it calls the Alexa Fund, which will provide up to $100 million in support to startups, manufacturers and designers looking to implement Alexa. The company has invested in seven IoT startups so far: Orange Chef, Scout Alarm, Garagio, Mojio, MARA, Toymail and Dargon Innovation.

Interested? Head over to Alexa Skills Kit’s official page here.

Amazon installs warehouses with 15,000 robots for the holiday rush

While delivery drones may still be a thing of the (near) future, Amazon has installed more than 15,000 robotic helpers across 10 of their U.S. fulfillment centers just in time for the Cyber Monday rush. The orange 320-pound bots from Kiva Systems are designed to expedite delivery time to customers while competing with brick-and-mortar stores.

kiva robots

These robots, which navigate across the warehouse floors on wheels, utilize vision systems to enable the unloading and receipt of an entire trailer of inventory in as little as 30 minutes — which pales in comparison to the hours of work by man. In addition, Amazon said its centers will be equipped with Robo-Stow, a gigantic robotic arm that shifts inventory, while employees will use high-end graphically oriented computer systems to fulfill customer orders in an effort to accelerate the process.


In fact, the robots have allowed Amazon to get packages out the door in as little as 13 minutes, compared to about an hour and a half on average in the non-futuristic facilities.

“The Amazon fulfillment teams are dedicated to innovating in our fulfillment centers to increase speed of delivery while enabling greater local selection at lower costs for our customers. The advancements in our latest fulfillment centers hit all three of these customer desires while continuing to provide a work environment that is great for employees,” said Dave Clark, Amazon’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations and Customer Service.

As Reuters notes, Amazon deployed the robots earlier this summer, ahead of the holiday quarter, when the company typically books about one-third of its annual revenue. The updated fulfillment centers are in five states — California, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Washington.


Amazon launches 3D printing store

Amazon announced Monday that customers will now have the ability to design their very own personalized 3D-printed products, including toys, earrings, and decorative vases.


In the online marketplace’s new 3D printing store, customers can choose from more than 200 unique print on-demand products — ranging from customized dog tags and iPhone cases to jewelry and one’s very own bobblehead. The massive online retailer won’t be involved in the manufacturing process and is simply connecting its shoppers with established 3D printing businesses like Sculpteo, Mixee Labs, and 3DLT, who will be responsible for fulfilling orders placed through the new store.

“The introduction of our 3D Printed Products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail – that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience. Sellers, in alignment with designers and manufacturers, can offer more dynamic inventory for customers to personalize and truly make their own,” said Petra Schindler-Carter, Director for Amazon Marketplace Sales, in its press release. “The 3D Printed Products store allows us to help sellers, designers and manufacturers reach millions of customers while providing a fun and creative customer experience to personalize a potentially infinite number of products at great prices across many product categories.”

The new store will feature fun and easy-to-use design templates for customers to put their individual style on an item they create and 3D preview capability to enhance the customer experience. With the 3D product preview function, customers will be able to 360-degree rotate a virtual model of a product to tailor the item from every angle. After selecting the template for the desired product, customers can select color, designs, and other features to tailor it to their exact taste. Amazon is working in partnership with 3D printing companies including Sculpteo, 3DLT, and Mixee Labs to manufacture the new goods, which the site says will range from under $40 to $100.

Simplifying smart home programming

A team of computer science researchers from Brown and Carnegie Mellon universities has adapted a method of programming known as “trigger-action” to more effectively communicate with IoT smart home devices.

According to Brown University’s Kevin Stacey, the trigger-action paradigm is already gaining steam across the Internet, particularly on the website IFTTT.com (If This, Then That), which helps users automate tasks across various Internet services.

 More specifically, users create “recipes” using simple if-then statements — for example: “If somebody tags me in a Facebook photo, then upload it to Instagram.”

The website interfaces with both service providers, with the action occurring automatically each time it’s triggered.

Although IFTTT.com started out as a tool to link websites, it recently added the capability to command a number of Internet-connected devices, such as Belkin’s WeMo power outlet and the Philips Hue lightbulb. Ultimately, the website prompted Brown’s Professor Michael Littman to consider adapting the trigger-action model for home automation.

“As a programming model, it’s simple and there are real people using it to control their devices,” Littman explained. “But the question we asked [was]: Does it work for the [home automation] tasks people want to do, or is it perhaps too simple?”

To find out, the researchers asked workers on Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace, what they might want a hypothetical smart home to do. The team subsequently evaluated answers from 318 respondents to see if those activities would require some kind of programming, and, If so, whether the program could be expressed as triggers and actions.

The next step? Determining how well users could actually design “recipes” to accomplish tasks. To do so, the team employed two interfaces designed by McManus, one of the undergraduate researchers, enlisting Mechanical Turkers to create recipes with the interfaces.

“We based both [interfaces] on ‘If This Then That,’” McManus said. “But then we made one of them slightly more complex, so you could add multiple triggers and multiple actions.”

The study showed that participants were able to use both interfaces — the simpler one and the one with multiple triggers and actions — fairly well. Participants who didn’t have any programming experience performed just as well on the tasks as those who did. Simply put, the results suggest that trigger-action programming is flexible enough to do what people want a smart home to do – and simple enough that non-programmers can use it.

Melwyn Pak, one of the Brown undergraduates on the project, finds that encouraging.

“People are more than ready to have some form of finer control of their devices,” he said. “You just need to give them a tool that allows them to operate those devices in an intuitive way.”

Littman, who has been studying end-user programming of electronic devices for several years, concurs.

“We live in a world now that’s populated by machines that are supposed to make our lives easier, but we can’t talk to them,” he concluded. “Everybody out there should be able to tell their machines what to do. This is our attempt to start thinking about how to bridge that gap.”

3D printed products hit Amazon

3DLT (a platform for 3D printing as-a-service) and Amazon are teaming up for a pilot program to sell 3D printed products on the wildly popular online retailer’s website. The products – which can be viewed and purchased here – range from fashion jewelry pieces to home decor items and tech accessories.

“We’re excited by the potential of a partnership with Amazon,” said 3DLT CEO John Hauer.

“They’ve become an eCommerce juggernaut, in part due to their ability to capitalize on innovations like 3D printing.”

Indeed, Amazon launched a specialized store on its marketplace dedicated to the sale of 3D printers and supplies back in June 2013.

“When it was announced that Amazon would begin selling 3D printers and supplies last summer, the industry heralded it as a defining moment, a clear indication that 3D printing was going mainstream,” Hauer explained.

“We think the decision to sell 3D printed products sends an even bigger message. Consumer products are the next frontier.”

3DLT COO Colin Klayer expressed similar sentiments.

“We think 3D print­-on­-demand will be very attractive to companies who want access to a new, digital channel. It will also be appealing to independent designers who’ve told us they want access to a large consumer market,” he added.

Approximately 50 3DLT products are currently available on the Amazon store, with new items slated to be added over the next few weeks.

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, the lucrative 3D printing market is projected to grow at a CAGR of 23% from 2013 to 2020, ultimately reaching $8.41 billion in 2020.

The rapid growth is attributed to a wide range of diverse factors including innovative and advanced technologies, customized products, government funding, a wide unexploited app space and rapid development of products.

Big Bang disruption and the IoT

Writing for Forbes, Paul Nunes and Larry Downes note that every one of over a trillion everyday items will one day include at least some ability to store, process and share information over the Internet.

“We’ve been hearing about intelligent refrigerators and product packaging for years, but now, thanks to relentless price/performance improvements in the enabling technologies, the IoT has finally arrived. Of course we’ve long had connected computing devices and, more recently, connected television sets and connected cars,” the two explained. “[However], in the last few years, an explosion of wearable sensing and monitoring devices, promises to revolutionize healthcare, fitness, child monitoring and services for the elderly. We’re on our way to the connected self. ”

Adafruit’s ATmega32U4-powered Flora

According to Nunes and Downes, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to disrupt and reconstruct the supply chain of every industry – significantly improving the efficiency of manufacturing, distribution, retailing and customer service.

“Marketing, for example, can become truly scientific, not based on sample data but on complete data. Manufactured goods will diagnose their own problems and contact the manufacturer for solutions. When products break, we can determine immediately why and how We’ll be able to predict failure in advance, turning maintenance from a reactive to a proactive function.”

Perhaps most importantly, they say, the IoT will allow consumers to become collaborators.

“While many IoT applications are still several generations of technology improvement away, the next major disruptor is already massing at the borders: making homes and offices intelligent and networked. We’re entering the age of the connected building. Early market experiments have already begun, some of them with the potential of Big Bang Disruption,” said the duo.

“Appliances, sockets and switches are being upgraded with sensors and antenna, making it possible to collect vast information about the performance and energy usage of device that draws power. 
Once collected, that information can be sliced and diced to improve energy efficiency, building maintenance, security and future product design.”

Indeed, say Nunes and Downes, the connected building will disrupt real estate developers and property managers, as well as manufacturers of appliances and lighting fixtures.

“[However], the impact of having near-perfect information on the performance of so many ‘dumb’ (and often expensive) pieces of infrastructure could reach far beyond the obvious–and deeply into the energy sector… It’s no exaggeration to say that connected buildings could change where and how we live and work, or even how we distinguish between the two, especially for an aging population,” the two added.

Paul Nunes and Larry Downes are the authors of “Big Bang Disruption,” which can be purchased here on Amazon.

Atmel-powered Arduinos in action!

In recent months, Bits & Pieces has introduced our readers to numerous technical books related to Atmel-powered Arduinos. So far, we’ve taken a closer look at “Arduino Robot Bonanza,”Arduino and Lego Projects,” “Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects,” “Practical AVR Microcontrollers” and “Exploring Arduino: Tools and Techniques for Engineering Wizardry.”


And today we’re going to talking about “Arduino in Action,” a book written by Martin Evans, Joshua Noble and Jordan Hochenbaum. According to the tech trio, the title offers readers a hands-on guide to prototyping and building electronics with everyone’s favorite platform.

“Suitable for both beginners and advanced users, this easy-to-follow book begins with the basics and then systematically guides you through projects ranging from your first blinking LED through connecting Arduino to devices like game controllers or your [smart]phone,” Evans, Noble and Hochenbaum explained in an official Amazon synopsis.

“[The book] is a hands-on guide to prototyping and building DIY electronics. Progressively more complex projects [are presented] as you connect Arduino to motors, LCD displays, Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. [For example], you’ll explore input/output sensors, including ultrasound, infrared, and light, and then use them for tasks like robotic obstacle avoidance.”

A full chapter breakdown is as follows:

  • Chapter 1 Hello Arduino
  • Chapter 2 Digital input and output
  • Chapter 3 Simple projects: input and output
  • Chapter 4 Extending Arduino
  • Chapter 5 Arduino in motion
  • Chapter 6 Object detection
  • Chapter 7 LCD displays
  • Chapter 8 Communications
  • Chapter 9 Game on
  • Chapter 10 Integrating the Arduino with iOS
  • Chapter 11 Making wearables
  • Chapter 12 Adding shields
  • Chapter 13 Software integration

It should be noted that purchase of the print book includes a free eBook in PDF, Kindle and ePub formats from Manning Publications.

“Arduino in Action,” written by Martin Evans, Joshua Noble and Jordan Hochenbaum, is currently available on Amazon (Prime) for $26.10.