Amazon is having a rough week.
The e-commerce powerhouse has celebrated a string of victories this year. Its stock price broke above $1,000 for the first time; it is presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment within the retail space as more than 8,000 brick-and-mortar stores are expected to close in the US this year, and the company announced plans to acquire yuppie favorite Whole Foods Market, promising to transform the company’s stores into laboratories for automation and AI where advanced sensors will perform tasks previously reserved for human cashiers. It also revealed that its “Prime Day” sale was the "Biggest Global Shopping Event in Amazon History", surpassing Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.
But the string of good news came to an abrupt halt last week when Reuters reported that the top Democrat on the House antitrust subcommittee, David Civilline, has voiced concerns about Amazon's $13.7 billion plan to buy Whole Foods Market and requested in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee a hearing to examine the deal's potential impact on consumers – the first stirrings of what could metastasize into an anti-trust probe.
Adding to the antitrust concerns, Reuters reported Thursday that the FTC is investigating the company for allegedly misleading customers about its pricing discounts, citing a source close to the probe. The news sent Amazon shares lower in afternoon trade:
Amid the negative news, the company’s investors enjoyed a brief moment of levity when career website Ladders reported on a patent that was awarded to the company earlier in the week. The patent, first filed in 2015, revealed the company’s plans to build a robot that, using the company’s massive data-mining apparatus, would be able to track down desperate mobile-device users in crowed public spaces like an airport or concert venue and present them with the greatest gift of all: an opportunity to charge their phones.
Here’s a quick rundown of how it’ll work, courtesy of Ladders:
“You will make a wireless request (perhaps with your last precious few moments of juice).
The robot will find you in a crowd using sensor data. Through a cloud-based application, the robot can even find you automatically when your power hits below 10%. Nothing, of course is free, so the robot will ask you to watch an ad, complete a survey, or pay some money.
The robot would be designed for public use in airports, hotels, and shopping malls—all locations where losing battery power can be particularly inconvenient. Of course, a device like this would be perfect for business travelers, who have become accustomed to carrying heavy external batteries or even bulky power strips.
Then: the robot provides sweet, precious electricity to your phone or iPad or laptop.”
As Ladders pointed out, the patent description explains why these robots could be useful, especially for professionals who are increasingly dependent on mobile devices.
“It can be quite inconvenient to a user when one of these devices runs out of battery power. This is especially true if the user does not have an available charging adapter for the device,” the patent reads. “Users may find themselves asking friends, or even strangers, to borrow a charging adapter.”
Indeed, as Ladders notes, “there is clearly an unmet market that an army of mobile-charging robots for your personal use can fill.”
Whether Amazon intends to move forward with production of the robot remains to be seen. The company has yet to comment publicly about the patent. But as it continues to test and refine its army of package-delivering drones, it’s unsurprising that Amazon is finding other uses for robotics.
But that’s Amazon: Working tirelessly to build a future where your phone battery never creeps below 10%.
Read the patent below: