This Week In Amazon: What’s Next, Curing Cancer?

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Rancor Over Ramadan

Prime Cut: It took Prime Day and the calendar to call Amazon’s traditionally complacent warehouse workers to action — or at least the observant Muslims among them.

TWICE Take: With the mid-summer sales promotion and weeks’-long inventory buildup running concurrent with Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam, employees representing Muslim workers at Minneapolis’ four distribution centers are requesting lighter workloads during the 30-day fasting period and time off without penalty for Eid al-Fitr, the end-of-fast festival. Amazon said it respects employees’ religious practices and “offers accommodations as needed,” but providing prayer space and mats might not cut it for Ramadan.

See the full story at The Los Angeles Times.

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What’s Next For Amazon, Curing Cancer?

Prime Cut: Actually, yes. A secret Amazon skunkworks team variously known as Grand Challenge, 1492 and Amazon X is toiling under the radar on a range of big-sky challenges like last-mile order delivery, electronic medical record coding and yes, the prevention and cure of cancer.

TWICE Take: The 50-person group includes scientists, engineers and former CEOs, and is led by Babak Parviz, who led the development of Google Glass while heading up Google X, Alphabet’s Grand Challenge equivalent. The unit is presently working with Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center on ways to apply machine learning to tackle the disease. But besides curing the world’s ills, Grand Challenge’s other grand challenge is to find fresh new fields for Amazon to till ... or disrupt.

Babak Parvis

Babak Parvis

See the full story at CNBC.

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Like A Good Neighbor …

Prime Cut: … Amazon is there, or may very well be if the company succeeds in linking a clandestine household robotics program with home insurance sales.

TWICE Take: The home-bot project, dubbed “Vestra,” portends a kind of Alexa on wheels that would wend its way through homes, keeping a cybernetic eye and nose out for smoke, broken glass or carbon monoxide. The around-the-clock monitoring, coupled with Alexa-controlled smart locks and security cameras, would allow Amazon to offer low-cost insurance premiums. Word of the e-tailer’s interest sent insurance stocks sharply lower last week.

See the full story at The Information.

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And Speaking Of Insurance…

Prime Cut: That healthcare initiative announced last January between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan is beginning to take shape. According to Berkshire chairman Warren Buffett, the triumvirate has picked a person to run the project, and is two weeks away from a formal announcement.

TWICE Take: The non-profit venture is intended to lower the cost of healthcare for the companies’ 1 million-plus employees and their families, and if successful could potentially benefit all Americans by sharing solutions, CEO Jamie Dion had said. But Buffet was less sanguine. “The resistance will be unbelievable,” he told Reuters. “And if we fail, at least we tried.”

See the full story at Reuters.

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Amazon’s Cubism Period

Prime Cut: Amazon last week introduced the Fire TV Cube, a 4K-capable streaming device that also supports the company’s voice-based Alexa technology. The combo enables users to navigate content and apps and change channels with their voice, reducing the need for consumers to buy and install a separate Alexa-powered Echo device.

Amazon Fire TV Cube

TWICE Take: The move broadens Amazon’s Fire TV device lineup beyond the core Fire TV box and Fire TV Streaming Stick, and stitches its smart-home tech with video streaming. The pre-order price of $119 gets you a Cube, IR extender cable and Ethernet adapter, although Prime members can snag the bundle for $90.

See the full story at TWICE.

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Amazon Quote Of The Week

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." — A quote by the late astronomer Carl Sagan, used for an internal job listing at Amazon’s secret Grand Challenge unit.