At 140 feet, it has the wingspan of a Boeing 737, but doesn’t transport passengers — and it’s much lighter too, weighing in at no more than 1,000 pounds. And within the next couple months, Facebook hopes to get its drone off the ground on an inaugural test flight.
Named Aquila, the aircraft is the product of more than a year’s work at the social networking giant. Its function is not to drop retail items from the clouds like Amazon’s drones, but to provide Internet access to the hundreds of millions of people who don’t have it in under-served parts of the world. Facebook aims to partner with carriers and other companies to provide connectivity, potentially at a lower cost than typical infrastructure like cell phone towers.
Aquila comes out of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, formed last year to develop new technologies for expanding Internet access. The company also hired team members from U.K.-based unmanned aircraft maker Ascenta.
The drone is just one element in the company’s master plan to improve Internet access, which also includes satellites and data-carrying laser beams. But it might be the most awe-inspiring.
“If you think about these little quadcopters, that’s not what we’re building,” said Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering, during a talk on the status of the company’s efforts at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
The plane’s entire surface is covered with solar panels. It’s meant to stay up in the air for three months at a time, at an altitude between 60,000 and 90,000 feet. That’s above commercial airlines and above the weather. It could potentially provide Internet access to people in a 50-kilometer (31-mile) radius, Facebook says.
Facebook has been flying scale models of the plane at altitudes of less than 400 feet. After on-the-ground testing, the company is now close to being able to launch the Aquila for a test flight, possibly at a location in the U.S., Parikh said.
The plane itself will receive Internet connectivity from a free space optical communication system, or lasers, also developed by Facebook. The lasers use light to transmit data through space. In this case, the laser system will beam an Internet signal to the plane from the ground.
Oracle is looking to expand the market for its Sparc-based servers with a new, low-cost processor which it curiously called Sonoma.
The company isn’t saying yet when the chip will be in the shops but the spec shows that could become a new rival for Intel’s Xeon chips and make Oracle’s servers more competitive.
Sonoma is named after a place where they make cheap terrible Californian wine and Oracle aims the chip at Sparc-based servers at “significantly lower price points” than now.
This means that companies can use them for smaller, less critical applications.
Oracle has not done much with its Sparc line-up for a couple of years, and Sonoma was one of a few new chips planned. The database maker will update its Sparc T5, used in its mid-range systems and the high-end Sparc M7. The technology is expected to filter to the Sonoma lower tier servers.
The Sparc M7 will have technologies for encryption acceleration and memory protection built into the chip. It will include coprocessors to speed up database performance.
According to IDG Sonoma will take those same technologies and bring them down to low-cost points. This means that people can use them in cloud computing and for smaller applications.
He didn’t talk about prices or say how much cheaper the new Sparc systems will be, and it could potentially be years before Sonoma comes to market.
Workhorse isn’t as high profile as Amazon or Google, but it demonstrated an eight-rotor delivery drone designed to work with its electric trucks and use some of the same battery technology.
“Our concept is, you have a package-delivery drone that rides on top of a truck as the driver goes about his day, and helps to pick off outliers on his route to help cut down on the cost of delivery per package,” said Elliot Bokeno, a mechanical engineer with Workhorse, who demonstrated the drone at a conference at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
If a driver had four deliveries in one part of town but only one in another, the drone might be able to handle that single, less convenient delivery.
The technology combines autonomous and manual control.
GPS is used to determine the delivery location, and the drone flies there without any human input, Bokeno said. But when it gets to the address, a downward-pointing camera switches on and an operator at a remote center takes over.
The operator guides the drone down, making sure to avoid people and obstacles, and releases the package. The drone then resumes autonomous flight and makes its way back to the truck.
In tests, the drone has flown as fast at 55 mph and has a maximum flight time of 30 minutes. The company is working with Panasonic, which provides batteries for Workhorse’s electric vehicles, on more advanced battery technology that will increase flight times to 45 minutes.
Bokeno said his company has already talked to several package delivery companies about using its technology.
For now, tests of the technology over relatively short distances continue. Workhorse is collaborating with the University of Cincinnati and hopes to begin multi-mile delivery tests soon.
Amazon.com Inc’s shares surged more than 20 percent last Friday, adding more than $46 billion to the company’s market value, after strong growth in the e-commerce giant’s cloud business drove a surprise quarterly profit.
The company’s market capitalization soared to more than $270 billion, overtaking that of Wal-Mart Stores, the world’s biggest retailer.
Revenue from Amazon’s cloud operations – Amazon Web Services (AWS) – nearly doubled in the second quarter, indicating that the business was poised to drive sustainable earnings for the online retailer, Wall Street analysts said.
Operating margins at the unit jumped to 21.4 pct from 7.7 percent.
“Product sales are Amazon’s bread, but AWS is its butter,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said in a note, raising his price target on the stock by 21 percent to $700.
“They delivered a pretty large profit, we expected a loss … they exercised discipline and did not invest in new consumer electronic product launches.”
Investors have raised concerns that the company’s aggressive spending may not pay off. But strong growth in AWS and positive commentary on the Amazon Prime service allayed some worries.
Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 a year for speedier delivery and exclusive access to certain movies, music and Kindle books, tend to spend more than regular users of Amazon’s services.
“The scale of their distribution network is starting to generate better incremental margins,” Barclays analyst Paul Vogel said.
“That, coupled with the continued strong growth in both revenue and margins at AWS, moves us from cautious to optimistic on the next year of growth for Amazon.”
Amazon, which last reported a profit in the fourth quarter of 2014, considers AWS its main engine of growth, along with Amazon Prime and Marketplace, where the company acts as a middleman for third-party vendors.
Amazon.com Inc will rollout its business loan program for small sellers later this year in eight new places including China, where credit is becoming a key factor in competing for new vendors and grabbing market share.
Until now, the e-retailer has offered the service only in the United States and Japan. Amazon Lending, founded in 2012, now plans to offer short-term working capital loans in other countries where it operates a third-party, seller-run marketplace business, the head of Amazon Marketplace, Peter Faricy, told Reuters.
The countries are Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.
The service is on an invite-only basis and is not open to all sellers on Amazon’s platform.
Other large retailers including eBay Inc’s PayPal and Alibaba Group Holdings, which run third-party marketplaces, are also turning to credit to boost their vendor base.
Some lending industry officials who help lenders assess credit risk say these retailers are taking on risky loans because they don’t know the shape of the credit market in which the sellers are operating.
Small businesses have high failure rates, especially in China and India, added William Black, a former U.S. banking regulator and professor of Economics and Law at the University of Missouri.
Amazon said it can safely offer loans based on internal data and because it takes loan payments out of the sales proceeds it pays sellers.
PayPal spokesman Josh Criscoe said eBay merchants who use PayPal are eligible for the working capital loans and credit is offered to only those customers that have a strong PayPal sales history. PayPal has provided more than $500 million in capital since September 2013, with an average loan disbursement of $2 million per day.
A spokeswoman for Alibaba’s financial services arm Ant Financial, which offers these loans, said credit is offered to Taobao, Tmall merchants and other small business owners who meet certain conditions. The company also offers such loans to customers in some countries like the United States and Britain.
Premium cable network HBO said it would make available the premiere episodes of two new comedy series on Facebook, underlining the growing popularity of the social networking site as a video platform.
The popularity of web videos have led to U.S. networks experiment with new platforms to attract new viewers. With about 1.44 billion monthly active users, Facebook has become a sough-after outlet for companies looking to market their products via online videos, the fastest growing category of Internet ads.
Last week, Amazon.com Inc released the pilot episode of its show “Catastrophe” for a limited time on the social media network, instead of its own Prime Instant Video streaming service.
HBO, owned by Time Warner Inc, said on Wednesday viewers would be able to access the premiere episodes of Dwayne Johnson-starrer “Ballers” and “The Brink” on Facebook for a limited period. The two new original series premiered this past Sunday.
Turner Broadcasting, another Time Warner network, said in April it granted exclusive video-on-demand rights to its Cartoon Network and Adult Swim programs to video streaming service Hulu.
On Tuesday Hulu said it would soon allow users to add CBS Corp’s TV network Showtime to their subscriptions.
Oracle Corp founder and Executive Chairman Larry Ellison announced that his database company is expanding its cloud-computing offerings, bringing Oracle into more direct competition with Amazon.com Inc.
“We’re prepared to compete with Amazon.com on price,” said Ellison in a webcast presentation, after announcing that Oracle would offer online storage and capability for customers to run their applications entirely in Oracle’s cloud.
The expansion is a major new step for Oracle, which is shifting its traditional database and customer relationship management businesses to the cloud.
“This is a really big deal,” said Ellison, who stepped aside in 2014 as chief executive of the company.
Amazon Web Services is the market leader in providing cloud computing capability to customers, followed by Microsoft Corp’s Azure service and International Business Machines Corp.
Oracle, which calls its cloud offering the Oracle Cloud Platform, will provide a cost-effective alternative to Amazon, said Ellison.
“Our new archive storage service goes head-to-head with Amazon Glacier and it’s one-tenth their price,” said Ellison. Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment.
Oracle’s cloud business is growing quickly, running at a rate of about $2.3 billion a year in revenue, based on last quarter’s figures.
By comparison, Amazon and Microsoft get about $6.3 billion each in cloud revenue per year.
Amazon Inc is currently working developing a mobile application that would pay ordinary people, rather than professional courier companies, to deliver packages en route to other destinations, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon would enlist brick-and-mortar retailers in urban areas to store the packages, likely renting space from them or paying a per-package fee, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The company’s timing for the service, known internally as “On My Way”, could not be learned, the Journal reported.
The service could give Amazon more control over the shopping experience and help limit shipping costs, the report added.
Shipping costs at the Seattle-based e-commerce giant rose 31 percent in 2014, outpacing sales growth of 19.5 percent.
Amazon could not immediately be reached for comment.
Alibaba, the Chinese ecommerce giant, is expanding its IaaS cloud offering named Aliyun into the United States and in doing so will take on America’s largest e-commerce company, Amazon, and its cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services.
Alibaba and Amazon each dominates its country’s e-commerce markets, and they both lead the IaaS markets in their respective nations as well. Now, both looking to move on to each other’s home turf.
Alibaba has embarked on a grand expansion of Aliyun, including opening a data center in Silicon Valley last year and partnerships with U.S. hosting providers and chip makers in recent weeks.
Meanwhile Amazon, along with competitor Microsoft, has pushed into the Chinese cloud market too. But U.S. companies are finding it difficult to offer services directly to Chinese customers because of legal regulations in the country.
All these dynamics mean that the international IaaS cloud battle is on.
Today Aliyun operates in six regions of the world, including five in China and its most recent location in Silicon Valley. A seventh region is under construction in Dubai. Alibaba says it has 1.4 million customers; its fourth annual developer conference last year attracted 10,000 attendees and in the fourth quarter of last year Aliyun had revenues of $147 million.
In recent months Alibaba has made a concerted effort to expand Aliyun into the U.S. But analysts who track this company say the moves, at least initially, are not aimed directly at taking on AWS and other major U.S. IaaS vendors like Microsoft and Google. “Aliyun has global ambitions just like other Chinese Internet giants,” says IDC analyst Melanie Posey. “They want a foothold in the U.S. to serve other Chinese companies with global ambitions (and those of their parent company) – and to be global, you need to have presence in the U.S.”
Alibaba is aiming Aliyun at Chinese companies who are looking to make inroads into the U.S. market. Conversely, companies in the U.S. that are looking to expand into China may find Aliyun an attractive option as well, says Frank Liu, Forrester Research analyst. “No doubt Aliyun will face intense competition in the global market, but a China-centric customer base (going global) will probably grow to be a nice niche with which it can dominate over time as China’s enormous economy continues to expand,” Liu wrote in an email.
Google will add a “buy” button in its search results on mobile devices in the coming weeks, according to a report last Friday in the Wall Street Journal, a move that could give online shoppers an easier way to buy products on small screens.
The change might also give consumers an alternative to mobile apps from companies like Amazon and eBay, though it might jeopardize retailers’ ability to directly market to their customers.
The buy button will appear on Google’s search results pages when people search for certain products on mobile devices, said the report, which cited unnamed sources. If users click on the buttons, they’ll be taken to another Google page where they can choose among sizes and colors, select shipping options and complete the purchase, the report said.
Google reportedly will let shoppers enter their payment information just once, store it, and automatically load it for future purchases on Google’s shopping pages.
The products will still be provided and sold by the retailer and not by Google. Macy’s is in talks with Google to take part in the launch of the button, according to the Wall Street Journal report.
Representatives of Google and Macy’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The buttons will accompany only sponsored search results, not regular results driven by Google’s basic search algorithm, the report said. At first they will only appear with a small percentage of Google’s search traffic.
Over time, the buttons could help Google expand its search service beyond information and links to also encompass an online storefront.
Wal-Mart’s service, which will be by invitation only for now, will offer selected products on the company’s website to customers within three days or less, company spokesman Ravi Jariwala told Reuters. Wal-Mart offers more than 7 million products on its website.
“Depending on customer feedback we will see how the program evolves,” Jariwala said.
The move underscores Wal-Mart’s efforts to scale its online business rapidly and gain a share of a market dominated by Amazon.
Amazon’s launched its $99-a-year shipping service called n Prime, a decade ago with the guarantee of standard, reliable two-day shipping on online orders.
Since then Prime has become the cornerstone of Amazon’s growth and the e-commerce company said U.S. Prime memberships grew 50 percent last year.
The deal that helped Crytek recover from its recent financial difficulties was Amazon, according to a report from Kotaku.
The online retail giant signed a licensing deal for CryEngine, Crytek’s proprietary game engine. Sources within the company put the deal’s value at between $50 million and $70 million, and suggested that Amazon may be using it as the bedrock for a proprietary engine of its own.
However Amazon uses the technology, though, the importance of the deal for Crytek cannot be overstated. Last year, during the summer, it became apparent that all was not well at the German developer. Employees hadn’t been fully paid in months, leading to an alleged staff walkout in its UK office, where a sequel to Homefront was in development. Koch Media acquired the Homefront IP and its team shortly after.
When the company’s management eventually addressed the rumors, it had already secured the financing necessary to take the company forward. No details of the deal were offered, but it’s very likely that Crytek got the money it needed from Amazon.
We have contacted Crytek to confirm the details, but it certainly fits with the perception that Amazon could emerge as a major creator of game content. It has snapped up some elite talent to do just that, it acquired Twitch for a huge sum of money, and it has been very open about where it plans to fit into the overall market.
Amazon.com is holding discussions to acquire online luxury retailer Net-a-porter in what could be the biggest acquisition yet for the e-commerce giant, but the negotiations are in early stages and could fall apart, Forbes reported, citing a person familiar with the matter.
The potential deal, first reported by Women’s Wear Daily, could value Net-a-Porter lower than the valuation of 2 billion euros ($2.16 billion) reported by the fashion industry trade journal, Forbes reported last Thursday, citing the person.
Seattle-based Amazon has long eyed the high-end fashion retail sector and any deal for Net-a-Porter would mean a new commitment in an area where the company lacks a strong presence, Forbes said.
“It’s Day 1 in the category,” Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos told the New York Times in an interview in 2012, saying the company was making a “significant” investment in fashion to convince top brands that it wanted to work with them, not against them.
Media reports in 2014 said Amazon was in talks to buy Indian fashion retailer Jabong.com for $1.2 billion.
Net-a-Porter is owned by luxury goods group Richemont, which bought the London-based company for 392 million euros in 2010.
A spokeswoman for Net-a-Porter said the company does not comment on industry speculation.
Amazon.com and Richemont could not be immediately reached for comment outside regular business hours.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration plans to announcel new rules soon to make it easier for companies to use drone aircraft for specific business operations, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
Commercial drone flights are generally banned in the United States, except in a small number of cases where the FAA has granted an exemption. The has agency received more than 750 requests for exemptions to the ban, but has awarded only 48.
Now the U.S. aviation regulator intends to streamline the process by no longer requiring companies with exemptions to obtain a new certificate of authority for each new use of a drone, the people familiar with the matter said.
The FAA could announce the change this week, ahead of a congressional hearing on drones scheduled for today, these people added.
The FAA had no immediate comment. The agency has been taking measured steps to ease restrictions on commercial use of drones.
The change in policy could be a positive signal to a wide swath of companies that are pushing for federal regulators to remove barriers to commercial uses of automated aircraft, and help foster growth of an emerging sector of manufacturers and service providers built around drone technology.
The rule changes also would be a boost for companies that already have exemptions from the commercial drone ban, such as Chevron , Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway Co , State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co, and a number of film and media companies. Those companies could get more flexibility to use pilotless aircraft for rail and pipeline inspections, crop surveys and aerial photography for commercials or movies.
Companies awaiting exemptions from the overall ban could also benefit, including Amazon.com Inc and Yamaha Motor Co.
Last Thursday, Amazon got FAA clearance to experiment with drones at an outdoor facility in Washington state under a different set of federal rules. Amazon hopes to develop drones capable of delivering packages to customer doorsteps.
Industry lobbyists have criticized the current process as too slow. Companies with approval to fly unmanned aircraft must obtain government permission each time they intend to use drones for a new project. They must fill out and get FAA approval for a two-page “certificate of authority” before each flight specifying where, when and how long the drone will fly.
The process of authorizing specific flights has bogged down, said Mark Dombroff, a partner in the drone practice of McKenna, Long and Aldridge. In one case, Dombroff said, applicants sought permission to fly over an area of land, but the FAA ”wanted us to apply for every farm individually.”
FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told industry representatives at a recent meeting that his agency was moving to streamline the process, the sources added.
Alibaba’s Tmall offers virtual storefronts and payment portals to merchants. Several western retailers, including Zara owner Inditex, Britain’s Burberry and ASOS, have joined TMall this year as they look to boost their presence in China.
Imported food, shoes, toys and kitchenware are listed on Amazon’s store, one of the many on Tmall that sell brand-name goods to Chinese shoppers, Bloomberg, which first reported the news, last week.
Amazon also operates its own e-commerce site in China.
U.S. retailer Costco Wholesale Corp last year opened an online store in China using Tmall, entering the country’s booming e-commerce market to combat slowing sales at home.
Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside usual business hours.