Re:MARS is one of the tentpole Amazon events on the calendar, and at $2000 a ticket, it’s one of their priciest. The price tag comes with some high expectations — but most of mine were met, if not exceeded. MARS is an acronym for “Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics and Space Travel.” The event has been running for four years, though it began as a private invite-only exhibition.
If you weren’t following along as I live-tweeted from the Sellwin Twitter account, I’ve put together some takeaways from last week’s event.
Some announcements touched on multiple aspects of MARS, covering robotics, automation and machine learning all at the same time. For example, the CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer Business Jeff Wilke unveiled a fully-electric drone that can fly 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds in less than 30 minutes. Part of the drone announcement focused on the array of sensors and smarts that can, for example, detect a dog in a yard and choose not to land, or see something as finite as a clothesline and navigate around.
According to presenters, the greatest area for innovation over the next decade is in healthcare. Over the past 50 years the cost/innovation ratio of the sector has consistently declined; there are fewer inventions at much higher cost. Machine learning applied to healthcare is set to reverse that trend. The computations, scenarios, and simulations now make cures to many ailments seem possible.
Machine learning also allows us to analyze billions of objects in space to see where the next inhabitable planets are. So far there is a list of more than a dozen, albeit they’re very far away.
On the Alexa front, there was some great automation innovations that caused the crowds of developers in the audience to erupt in applause. First, consumers no longer need to remember all the “utterances” (keywords that prompt Alexa’s skill to work) to get accurate results. Instead of saying “Alexa, ask Roomba to clean the kitchen floors,” you can now just say “Alexa, clean the kitchen,” yielding the same result with a more natural way of speaking.
An example they used was in planning a night out. In the past, you’d need to open four separate skills and go through the user flow for each of them, assuming you have already downloaded and activated those skills and know the correct utterances to get them to work. Painful, time consuming, and unlikely.
Now you can open “Atom” movie tickets app to buy your movie tickets, and then Alexa will proactively ask if you want to eat before or after the movie. If you say yes, the “OpenTable” skill will continue the conversation and allow you to book a restaurant. Then, Alexa will ask if you need an Uber to get there. If you say yes, she seamlessly moves to the Uber app and books your ride.
It was fascinating to hear about robot ethics (yes, robot ethics) from Kate Darling from the MIT robotics research lab. She recounted experiments they undertook surrounding the relationships between man and machines, which found that people attribute human emotions to things that move. “Over 80% have named their Roomba,” she said. “They get them fixed because they don’t want to replace them. They feel sad when they get tangled.”
Darling emphasized that it’s not about robots replacing humans, but rather robots complementing humans. She used our relationship with animals as an example. A horse can act as farming equipment and round cattle up, but a cat is mostly for companionship. Going forward, she sees humans having an emotional attachment to robots but ultimately keeping them in the “useful” mental bucket. My favorite quote from Kate was, “You’ll see a lot of robots at this conference. Don’t be worried. You can take most of them out with a bucket of water.”
Blue Origin, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), and Amazon spoke about the moon. They want to get a man and woman to the moon within the next few years. Blue Origin has built the “Blue Moon” lander that can carry tons of equipment to the moon. Carrying everything to the moon isn’t feasible, so the equipment would be used to mine the moon’s surface and build using the minerals and metals already there. They see the moon as the first step in inhabiting other parts of the galaxy, and a base from which to explore.
Seeing Jeff Bezos on stage was fascinating – that laugh of his is infectious. During his talk, he discussed (for the first time in public) Amazon’s plans to launch its own satellite broadband service, Project Kuiper. “Access to broadband is going to be very close to a fundamental human need as we move forward,” Bezos said. “It’s also a very good business for Amazon because it’s a very high-capex undertaking. It’s multiple billions of dollars of capex… Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that, if they work, can actually move the needle.” Basically, he is focused on building an infrastructure to connect more of the population… and allow them to shop on Amazon.
So, what does this innovation mean for sales and marketing?
The updated Alexa skills platform presents a great opportunity for marketers to integrate their brands into conversations. The new platform also helps solve the ‘discoverability’ issue that has made it difficult for consumers to engage with your Alexa skill previously. Now if there is a genuine user need, Alexa will prompt the consumer to use your skill/brand.
For most of the talks, there was no immediate correlation with brand marketing, but the implications for retail and the logistics around selling are tremendous. Satellites will connect more people who can purchase, robots will enable faster and more accurate fulfillment, and deliveries can appear in less than 30 minutes via drones. Maybe also consider getting some stock ready to store on the moon for your future interstellar customers.