Amazon.com, Inc. organized an exclusive conference this week in Palm Springs, California, that focused on robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), space exploration, and home automation, according to Bloomberg Business and reports from attendees. The event was called MARS, which stands for Machine-Learning Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration.
Some of the guests on the invite-only list came from robotics companies such as Rethink Robotics, educational institutions like MIT, research institutes like ETH Zurich, and carmakers such as Toyota. Around 130 people were invited to the cozy affair.
Much of the event is still shrouded in mystery. Even Amazon has not confirmed that it even took place, but photos of the event are starting to emerge on platforms like Twitter. The co-founder of iRobot, Helen Greiner, tweeted about going to the event and meeting old friends and new machines.
According to Bloomberg Business, guests at the event attended seminars about topics such as giving human values to robots. In fact, robots were the subject of a number of different demos and talks.
The invitations for the event read: “Many great humans are attending (not to mention some extraordinary robots).” The event at the Parker Palm Springs resort was attended by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos himself, who turned up on stage donning a robotic suit.
The conference reportedly featured celebrity appearances from film director Ron Howard and author Dan Brown. Attendees could watch robotic arms dueling with Star Wars light sabers and enjoy food and drinks served on Kiva robots. They were invited to make their own axes and use them to split wood, and they also got the chance to try out virtual reality devices.
Why did Amazon keep the event a secret?
The real question here is why was the conference such a big secret? Amazon has never tried to hide its keen interest in these fields, particularly robotics, and Jeff Bezos is the founder and backer of commercial space exploration firm Blue Origin.
Last year, Amazon held a robotics challenge to help develop machines that can help with order fulfillment, and their warehouses make use of robots. Amazon’s Echo bluetooth speakers are equipped with voice assistant Alexa, who can help users with tasks lime dimming their lights, playing music, and ordering pizza.
Is Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN) looking to expand robotics operations?
There have been reports that Amazon might be interested in buying Google’s robots subsidiary Boston Dynamics, which recently posted a video clip of its robots picking up boxes and stacking them on shelves on YouTube.
Amazon already owns robots firm Kiva and uses more than 30,000 of its machines in its warehouse, although they are simpler than the anthropomorphic ones made by Boston Dynamics.
Amazon is one of a number of firms that believe that robots are going to become indispensable tools in the logistics world. Some speculate that they are looking to run their warehouses entirely by robots, but the firm is quick to stress that the robots will be the collaborative variety that work with humans rather than replacing them entirely.
An Amazon spokesperson told GeekWire last year: “There has been no job loss associated with the use of robotics in our buildings and in fact due to increased efficiencies, some of our buildings utilizing robotics have the highest headcounts in our network.”
Positive sign for investors
Amazon does tend to be somewhat secretive about its technology. Exclusive meetings are also not that unusual; the firm hosts Campfire meetings with authors once a year in New Mexico.
Nevertheless, the secretive nature of the robotics meeting has raised more than a few eyebrows and led observers to wonder what exactly Amazon has up its sleeve. Perhaps that’s what they were hoping for. It’s clear they are pushing forward in this field, which could give investors confidence in their long-term prospects. After all, the global robotics market is expected to grow almost 30 percent by 2019.