x5: Alphabet Drones Deliver Burritos and Alexa Speaks Up

September 19, 2016 Eric Mercer


x5 is our news update that covers the 5 things that happen in tech each week and why they matter.

Tesla releases Autopilot 8.0

Early last week, Tesla announced that it will be updating the Autopilot feature in its cars via over-the-air software. The main focus for this update is the use of radar technology to detect objects around the vehicle and signal early breaking, a feature that Tesla believes could have prevented the fatal Tesla crash earlier this year.

Why This Matters

If you haven’t had a chance to read Elon Musk’s latest Master Plan, you really should. Part of Musk’s plan is to create an autopilot system that is 10x safer than the average American driver – a lofty goal. How that fits into the overarching plan is twofold: 1) Creating Teslas that can drive themselves allows owners to sign their cars up to be part of the Tesla autonomous fleet of taxis. This eliminates the need to pay for parking and the revenue from taxi service helps the owner offset the cost of ownership. 2) This autopilot system could be used on large transport vehicles, such as shipping trucks, which could rocket-launch Tesla into a whole new industry and revolutionize how we ship goods. This week’s launch of Autopilot 8.0 puts him one step closer to that goal.


Alphabet is using drones to deliver Chipotle

Google’s parent company has a group called Project Wing, who are partnering with Virginia Tech and Chipotle to test drone delivery of food to users on campus. The test is FAA approved and the test uses ‘hybrid’ drones, meaning they can fly like a plane or like a helicopter.

Why This Matters

A lot of people are doubling down on eCommerce and product delivery. With Walmart’s acquisition of Jet.com, Amazon continuing to innovate, and services like Uber getting into the food delivery business, major companies are looking for more cost-effective ways to deliver orders, big and small. Drone tests like these ones could lead to larger drone delivery programs, which could open up all sorts of new shipping options that would be more affordable to both large and small businesses.


Airbnb launches the Friendly Building Program

The program allows building owners to decide the terms of use for tenants hosting on Airbnb, and lets them amend leases to reflect the policy. When a unit is rented out using Airbnb, the building owner is given a cut of the revenue. In order to convince buildings to sign up, Airbnb is offering data on how many units and what price units are currently going for within buildings, while not offering the exact unit numbers (in order to protect the identity of users).

Why This Matters

Airbnb has been trying to solve a lot of problems lately. Last week they were pushing to solve the issue of discrimination from their hosts, this week they are trying to solve the issues of condos and apartment buildings that don’t officially allow tenants to use Airbnb. One of the major threats to growth for Airbnb is large condo buildings in major cities that don’t allow Airbnb. Tenants run the risk of getting evicted from their apartments for using Airbnb, which is enough of a deterrent for most. With these new policies in place, it could open up a large number of new hosts, which would be great for Airbnb and terrible for the hotel industry.


Amazon Alexa will soon adopt push notifications

According to a report from The Information, Amazon is planning to enable push notifications for Alexa. This would give Alexa the ability to either speak to you, via the Amazon Echo, or via phone notifications.

Why This Matters

You might be thinking, “so what?” This could essentially turn Alexa into a real-life version of Tony Stark’s Jarvis (go watch Iron Man). Push notifications could allow Alexa to do simple things such as letting you know that you should leave in 10 minutes to make it on-time for an appointment due to traffic. Another example would be telling you information about outages in your city’s transit system before your commute, or providing you with updates on a loved one’s flight information. Where this gets interesting for brands and retailers is the idea of product suggestions. For example, if Alexa is able to look at your purchase cycle for laundry detergent, she could pipe up one day and say something like: “I see that you’re running out of Tide next week. Would you like me to order some more now?” This could give Amazon massive influence over purchase-making decisions.


Mode Media shuts down

It used to be called Glam Media. Last year they generated close to $90M in revenue, and were projected to bring in over $100M this year. On Thursday, Mode Media abruptly announced to employees that they’ve filed for bankruptcy and are shutting down effective immediately.

Why This Matters

Mode was, at one point, valued at $1B. The have been ranked the 10th largest digital publisher in the US. Several members of their marketing influencer network have taken to the airways accusing Mode of not paying them for completing campaigns. With this massive digital publisher disappearing overnight, a gap will be created for other companies to swoop in and scoop up Mode’s clients.

For all the #ModeOwesBloggers, we invite you to https://t.co/NtHZPiwPXw. One reason to join #ThePaidCrew: on-time biweekly payments.

— #paid (@hashtagpaid) September 16, 2016

Despite the fact that the company never went public, they have raised an estimated $230M to date. This is another example of a large media company struggling to find revenue streams and relevance. Given this death of a unicorn, what does this mean for the future of media?


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