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  1. (Reuters) - A former Uber Technologies executive who co-founded a British startup backed by billionaire Jeff Bezos has been sued for allegedly stealing trade secrets from a California shipping and logistics company where he was once a board member. Vanguard Logistics Services (USA) Inc accused Fraser Robinson of conspiring with another former Uber executive to steal algorithms, data and other intellectual property in 2018 to create their “copycat” London-based company, Beacon Technologies Ltd. The complaint against Robinson and Beacon was filed on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. It seeks what Vanguard, which is based in nearby Long Beach, called “significant” compensatory and punitive damages for the alleged fraudulent conduct and the return of what was stolen. A Beacon spokesman called the lawsuit “an ill-thought out action which is entirely without merit and which has been brought in the wrong jurisdiction. Any claim will be robustly defended.” Vanguard did not respond to requests for additional comment. Beacon announced on May 31 it had raised more than $15 million from investors including Bezos and the San Francisco venture capital firm 8VC. The company’s backers also include Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick and former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. Vanguard said Robinson became interested in shipping and logistics in March 2017 when Uber launched the truck-hailing service Uber Freight. Robinson had overseen Uber operations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa at the time. Vanguard said Robinson approached its owners, the Mansour family, in late 2017 to work as a consultant and director. But it said this was a “charade,” and that after winning the family’s trust Robinson began stealing confidential information and working secretly with Dmitri Izmailov, the other former Uber executive, to create Beacon. Robinson and Beacon are the only defendants in the lawsuit. Beacon says on its website that its mission is to become a logistics and trade finance leader by making trade simpler, more transparent and reliable. The case is Vanguard Logistics Services (USA) Inc v. Robinson et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 20-09880. Source
  2. Congress calls on Bezos to come explain Amazon’s possible lies And if he doesn't come voluntarily, he'll be voluntold with a subpoena. Enlarge / Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his surprised face speaking in 2019. Eric Baradat | AFP | Getty Images 82 with 55 posters participating, including story author A bipartisan group of House representatives wants Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to show up and explain to their socially distanced faces why media reports say his company is doing something Amazon previously promised Congress it would never do. The House Antitrust subcommittee opened its investigation into "abusive conduct" in the tech sector—focusing on Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook—last June, almost a year ago. So far the committee has held several public hearings and has gone through untold reams of documentation it requested from all four firms about several of their business practices. Among the practices under examination is Amazon's treatment of third-party vendors on its massive marketplace platform and its use of data generated by those merchants to compete against them directly with first-party private label sales. Company representatives explicitly told Congress several times in the past year that Amazon does not access vendors' data in that way or for those purposes. Except it turns out that it totally does. Media reports, most recently a story published last week by The Wall Street Journal, have found many employees saying they used and were encouraged to use that data, despite company policy saying not to. Congress does not like feeling that it has been lied to, and the letter to Bezos (PDF) makes that displeasure clear. "If the reporting in the Wall Street Journal article is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company's business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious," they write. "In light of our ongoing investigation, recent public reporting, and Amazon's prior testimony before the Committee, we expect you, as Chief Executive Officer of Amazon, to testify before the Committee," the letter continues. "It is vital to the committee, as part of its critical work investigating and understanding competition issues in the digital market, that Amazon respond to these and other critical questions concerning competition issues in digital markets." The invitation to come talk to Congress is also not really a request. "Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis," the letter ends, the committee will "resort to compulsory process"—such as a subpoena—if necessary. "Amazon has had multiple chances to come clean about its business practices," Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, said in a series of tweets. "Instead, its executives have repeatedly misled the Committee and the public. Enough." "In light of the gravity of this situation, I am also considering whether a perjury referral is warranted," he added. "Powerful companies are not above the law." In addition to Cicilline, the letter was signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Antitrust Subcommittee Vice Chair Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), ranking member Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), and Reps. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). Earlier this week, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) urged the Justice Department to launch a criminal antitrust probe into Amazon over its alleged use of third-party merchant data. The European Commission's competition bureau is also investigating the matter in depth. Source: Congress calls on Bezos to come explain Amazon’s possible lies (Ars Technica)
  3. "It's time to go back to the Moon—this time to stay.” WASHINGTON D.C.—The world's richest person, Jeff Bezos, unveiled his sweeping vision for humanity on Thursday afternoon in a Washington D.C. ballroom. With the lights dimmed, Bezos spoke on stage for an hour, outlining plans for his rocket company, Blue Origin, and how it will pave the way to space for future generations. We have seen bits and pieces of Bezos' vision to use the resources of space to save Earth and make it a garden for humans before. But this is the first time he has he stitched it together in such a comprehensive and radical narrative, starting with reusable rockets and ending with gargantuan, cylindrical habitats in space where millions of people could live. This was the moment when Bezos finally pulled back the curtain, in totality, to reveal his true ambitions for spaceflight. This is where he would like to see future generations one day live. His speech felt akin to the talk SpaceX founder Elon Musk delivered at an international space conference in 2016. Mexico City is where Musk first unveiled a design for a super-large rocket and starship, as well as his plans for millions of humans to live on Mars and make a vibrant world there. The grandiosity of Bezos and Musk's visions are similar, and both billionaires believe the first step must involve sharply reducing the cost of access to space. This is why both SpaceX and Blue Origin have, as their core businesses, large reusable rockets. But their visions also differ dramatically. Musk wants to turn Mars green and vibrant to make humanity a multi-planet species and provide a backup plan in case of calamity on Earth. Bezos wants to preserve Earth at all costs. "There is no Plan B," the founder of Amazon said Thursday. First, the news As part of his speech, Bezos revealed new details about a large lunar lander, called "Blue Moon," capable of delivering up to 3.6 tons of cargo and scientific experiments to the lunar surface. Blue Origin has spent three years working on the vehicle, he said. The company also has a brand-new engine, not previously known, named BE-7 that has 10,000 pounds of thrust. It will power the Blue Moon vehicle during its descent to the lunar surface. The company will perform its first hotfire test of the BE-7 engine this summer in West Texas, Bezos said. Introducing Blue Moon. Near the end of his speech, Bezos praised the goal set by Vice President Mike Pence of landing humans on the Moon by 2024. "I love this," Bezos said. "It's the right thing to do. We can help meet that timeline but only because we started three years ago. It's time to go back to the Moon—this time to stay." In a configuration with "stretch tanks," Bezos said Blue Moon could carry up to 6.5 tons to the lunar surface, and this would be large enough for a crewed ascent vehicle. This aligns with NASA's vision for a multi-stage lunar lander that involves both a descent vehicle and then a different spacecraft for humans—the ascent vehicle—that will launch back from the surface of the Moon and return the crew to low lunar orbit. Blue Origin will bid on the descent vehicle portion of NASA's lunar lander contract. Enlarge / A Blue Moon lander with an ascent vehicle (built by another company) on top. Blue Origin Bezos, who is self-funding Blue Origin at a rate of approximately $1 billion a year, did not say whether he would fund the development of Blue Moon without NASA contracts for cargo delivery to the lunar surface or the descent module contract for the crew lander. O’Neill cylinders Throughout his speech, Bezos displayed his enthusiasm for this topic. He was five years old when he watched the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Spaceflight, and the possibilities it offers for humanity, have fascinated him ever since. "You don't choose your passions—your passions choose you," he said Thursday. During the first part of his talk, Bezos spoke about the world's looming energy crunch. Human energy use grows at a rate of 3 percent a year, he said, and this figure factors in increasing efficiency in computing, transportation, and other sectors. Today, all of humanity's energy needs could be met by a solar farm covering an area the size of Nevada. In a couple of centuries, a solar farm to meet our needs would cover the entire planet. At some point, unless humans expand into the Solar System, this growing energy demand will meet with finite resources and energy rationing. "That's the path that we would be on, and that path would lead for the first time to your grandchildren having worse lives than you," he said. Other worlds in the Solar System lack Earth's atmosphere and gravity. At most, they could support perhaps a few billion people, Bezos said. The answer is not other planets or moons, he said, but rather artificial worlds or colonies in space known as O'Neill cylinders. These are named for their creator, Gerard O'Neill, who was a professor at Princeton University where Bezos attended college in the early 1980s. In his book The High Frontier, O'Neill popularized the idea of free-floating, cylindrical space colonies that could have access to ample solar energy. Bezos was hooked then and became president of the campus chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. And he is still hooked today, imagining up to 1 million humans living in each cylinder built from asteroid materials and other space resources. Each environment would be climate controlled, with cities, farms, mountains, or beaches. "This is Maui on its best day all year long," Bezos said. "No rain. No earthquakes. People are going to want to live here." And when they need to, they could easily fly back to Earth. Brave and bold This is a far-flung future, certainly. Bezos said the challenge for this generation is to build the "road" to space that could, one day, lead to in-space activity that creates such a future. He cited two "gates" holding back human development of space. One is low-cost access to space, and he noted that his company has already built the reusable New Shepard launch system and will fly the much larger New Glenn rocket into space in 2021. The second limiting factor is that, to thrive, human activity must rely on resources in space, water from the Moon, metals from asteroids, and energy from the Sun. To this end, Blue Origin has been working on the Blue Moon lander to deliver small rovers and other scientific packages to the Moon. The rovers would suss out information about water ice on the Moon and how it might be harvested for use as rocket fuel. (Conveniently, the Blue Moon lander will use liquid hydrogen). Bezos said he believes that—if this generation builds the infrastructure needed to enable humans to get into space and develop an economy there—future generations will pick up the ball and run. "People are so creative once they're unleashed," Bezos said. It was brave and bold of Bezos to put his entire vision for humanity's aspirations out there all at once. Like with Musk in 2016, it opens him up to criticism for being too dreamy about outer space or not caring about the immediate problems here on Earth. But the reality is that, while Earth has plenty of problems today, humanity faces existential concerns in the decades and centuries to come. It is good to think about these problems and plant the seeds for solutions that may one day solve them. It is all the better when the dreamer proposing them has enough money to get the ball rolling. Source: Jeff Bezos unveils his sweeping vision for humanity’s future in space (Ars Technica) Poster's note: To view the article's two image galleries, please visit the link above.
  4. LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said on Thursday he expects there will be commercial robots in the next 10 years that can grasp items as reliably as humans, a development that could lead to the automation of warehouse jobs around the world. The remark, made on stage at Amazon’s “re:MARS” conference in Las Vegas, underscored how companies and university researchers are rapidly developing technology to perform human tasks, whether for elder care in the home or for the picking and stowing of goods in retail warehouses. “I think grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s turned out to be an incredibly difficult problem, probably in part because we’re starting to solve it with machine vision, so (that means) machine vision did have to come first.” Bezos did not discuss any Amazon deployments of the technology, which it has tested from the Boston-area startup Soft Robotics, for instance, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters previously here The company has said it views automation as a way to help workers. Still, Amazon is known for its drive to mechanize as many parts of its business as possible, whether pricing goods or transporting items in its warehouses. It employs hundreds of thousands of people, many of whose primary task is grasping, scanning and placing customer orders. A variety of companies other than Amazon have also rolled out robotic hands for limited warehouse pilots. In the on-stage interview, Bezos also discussed Project Kuiper, Amazon’s recent bet to launch thousands of satellites to expand broadband internet access, which he said was “close to being a fundamental human need.” “It’s also very good business for Amazon because it’s (a) very high capex undertaking; it’s multiple billions of dollars of capex,” he said. “Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that if they work can actually move the needle.” Asked whether people ever say “no” to Bezos, the world’s richest person and a famously scrupulous boss, he joked, “No! Certainly not twice. No, seriously, I do get told ‘no’ all the time. I seek it out.” “People who are right a lot, they listen a lot. They also change their mind a lot,” he said earlier in the interview. “They wake up, and they re-analyze things all the time.” Source
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