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Tag: amazon

Sony working on reincarnating Aibo, this time as a smart home assistant

aiboAibo is coming back, and he hopes to take a bite out of Alexa.

Sony is reportedly re-forming the team behind its discontinued robot dog Aibo, and plans are for him to come back in a form that will compete with Alexa, the artificially intelligent household assistant produced by Amazon.

Aibo made a splash when he was introduced back in 1999, but after a few years consumer interested waned.

In large part that was because, aside from the novelty, he was less than cuddly and really couldn’t do much other than sit and bark.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Sony is preparing to compete with Amazon, Google and Apple by producing a smart, speaking, more helpful version of the robot dog.

After a 12-year hiatus from robotics, the company announced last year it was turning its attention back to robots. Aibo’s return would be the first of several products brought to the market.

He will engage in all the dog-like behavior the old one did, but this time will be equipped with artificial intelligence, Internet connectivity, and he will speak the human language.

He’ll be able to control home appliances, play music and query the Internet at the command of his owner’s voice. Equipping him with AI will allow consumers to use him the same way they use any other digital assistant, all while being a little more personable, a little more like family, than just a futuristic looking speaker.

Whether the smarter, reincarnated version will be named Aibo isn’t certain yet, but the company says it is a possibility.

Poking a little more fun at Audible For Dogs

We poked a little fun at Amazon’s new Audible For Dogs yesterday, but, as we see, the campaign is so lame there’s plenty of room for more poking.

So up there above is what Conan O’Brien’s writers did with it.

Audible has teamed up with Cesar Millan, and their effort is receiving a truly inordinate amount of media coverage, especially when you consider it’s really no effort at all — rather, it’s just featuring some audio books they already offer on a new web page.

Given it’s just another way for them to move existing merchandise, and given most of us dog owners already knew that turning on the television or a radio (both of which cost you less than an audio book) could help keep home-alone dogs company, there’s nothing there but some slick marketing.

Not to rub their noses in it, but the campaign by Audible and its parent company Amazon deserves every bit of ridicule it gets.

Much ado about nothing: Audible partners with Millan to launch audio books for dogs

Gotta call bullshit on this one.

Well, maybe “bullshit” is too strong a term. Maybe I should just say, “Give me a break” or “Get real,” while rolling my eyes and wondering what consumers are going to fall for next.

Audible and Cesar Millan have teamed up, offering and promoting a book-of-the-month type program, in which, for $14.95 a month, you can choose audio books to play for your dog while you’re not home.

Of course Audible For Dogs is the same thing as Audible for humans, thereby requiring no investment from Audible, or parent company Amazon, other than what they’re spending on promoting the campaign and the undisclosed amount they’re paying Millan, who reportedly is helping choose the books and making promotional appearances.

If you’re not the sort to buy “Pride and Prejudice” for yourself, you might be willing to buy it for your dog, Audible figures, and play it for him to keep him calm and occupied when you leave the house.

The campaign promotes books the company already offers in audio, featuring them on the Audible For Dogs web page — sometimes classics, sometimes bestsellers, sometimes dog-themed, including several by (you guessed it) Cesar Millan.

It’s all based on a 2015 study performed at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audio books reduced stress in shelter dogs even more than music does.

dogs-with-headphonesFollow-up research was conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, and it found (big surprise) exactly what the company wanted it to find.

Specifically, Millan’s center found that 76% of dog owners who played audio books for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Audible is already the largest seller of narrated books.

But it has figured out it can sell even more by cashing in on our tendency to pamper our dogs and exploiting the guilt we feel when we leave them alone

As one of the owners involved in Millan’s “follow-up study” explained, she used to feel guilty every time she left her dog, Buddy, at home alone.

In a video interview with Millan, she spoke of the effects the audio book program had on her dog and, more importantly it seems, her.

“I was really surprised at the lack of guilt I found when I was able to do that, it was like leaving him with a friend,” the woman, named Leslie, says. “I could go out with a smile on my face and feel really good about what I was doing for him.”

News flash, Leslie: You could have just left a TV or radio on for him and achieved pretty much the same effect, saving $14.95 a month.

($14.95 is the regular price for an Audible subscription, which comes with one new book a month.)

I’ll admit I leave the TV on for my dog, rescued from a Korean dog farm, in hopes it will keep him calm and help him get used to non-threatening humans.

But would I buy him his own audio book? Absolutely not — unless maybe it was one narrated by the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, or the calm, sleep-inducing, you-can’t-have-too-much-Xanax voice of Bob Ross, the painter.

(Disclaimer 1: We are not implying Bob Ross uses Xanax. You can have too much Xanax. And so can your dog.)

(Disclaimer 2: I apply this same therapy to myself, seeking out a reassuring voice on TV to fall asleep to. Sixty-three year old’s can’t suck their thumbs. This is why I often go to bed with Bob Newhart.)

Millan suggests choosing a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their dog’s primary master and notes that “it’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind.”

He also suggested the books be played at average volume on a listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo, which Audible’s parent Amazon just so happens to sell.

audiodogsMillan says audio books can help dogs better cope with the separation anxiety many have when left alone, which can result in bad behavior, including barking, destruction and peeing.

He also told USA Today, “I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone.”

Again, none of this is actually groundbreaking.

Most of us likely had already figured out that an audio book — like the television or radio — can keep our dog “company.”

Yet Audible/Amazon still felt the need to appoint a celebrity, create a new niche market, conduct a campaign, issue press releases and have a “launch.”

“While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism,” wrote USA Today. “So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?”

We’d say yes, unless you’re talking about the money tree.

To its credit, through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Millan also somewhat philanthropically recorded an original audio book for the service called “Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog,” which you can download for free.

Launch titles include Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” performed by Rosamund Pike; Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” performed by Noah; W. Bruce Cameron’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” performed by William Dufris; Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” performed by Christopher Evan Welch; and Maria Goodavage’s “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes,” performed by Nicole Vilencia.

We laugh at Audible’s effort. And yet, at the same time, we encourage them, if they are going to persist in this, to work some books narrated by Morgan Freeman, Bob Ross and Bob Newhart into the mix.

We’d also suggest some Hans Christian Anderson — specifically, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because it so perfectly reflects what they are up to: making people think something is there when it’s not.

The only thing there is a desire to sell more books. With fewer humans reading them, maybe Audible felt the need to branch out to other species.

I’d warn you that the day could come — given all the books dogs might be consuming and a decline in our own reading — that dogs could become smarter than us.

But there’s a pretty good chance that day is already here.

When drones deliver will dogs get to growling? Amazon wants to know

drone

Reports surfaced this week that Amazon, as it continues to develop its top secret project to someday deliver packages by drones, has obtained a “simulated dog” so they can assess what obstacles dogs might pose to drones, and how to avoid them.

This is a real story. Honest.

It sounds a little like something out of an episode of Robot Wars, but the dangers dogs could pose to drones, and, more important, drones could pose to dogs, are well worth considering if this whole drone delivery idea is going to come to pass.

(Which I’d prefer it didn’t.)

Amazon doesn’t care what I think, though, and it is proceeding very secretly on the drone project, and looking at how to equip drones with enough artificial intelligence (beyond GPS) for them to cope with what postal carriers have long been coping with — everything from dogs to clotheslines.

Ironically, the Amazon simulated dog story came out same day the Postal Service released its latest dog bite figures, which are undergoing the largest increase in three decades.

Dog attacks on postal workers rose last year to 6,755, up 206 from the previous year — but the increase comes amid double-digit increases in the post office’s package business. Postal carriers are visiting more homes more frequently and at all times of day, often burdened with packages, thanks to agreements the Postal Service struck with Amazon in 2013 and 2014.

In other words, the more Internet shopping we all do, the greater burden we put on postal carriers, thereby increasing the chances for them to be victims of dog bites.

Unless of course packages are being delivered by drones, as Amazon — clearly the biggest catalyst in online shopping’s growth — proposes to do.

If there’s a conspiracy theory that might apply to all this, please feel free to apply it. Because I can’t come up with one.

According to the International Business Times, Amazon is using the simulated dogs as it conducts tests with drones in the UK.

It is not known how many simulated dogs there are in Amazon’s pack or what, if any, behaviors they’ve been programmed to imitate — barking, biting, tail-wagging?

410I1FkDAkLNor is it known whether Amazon created them, procured them from a contractor, or ordered them from themselves.

Amazon has been testing delivery drones since 2015. In July 2016 it signed a partnership with the UK government to explore the safe use of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) to make deliveries in rural and suburban areas.

There are plenty of rough spots still to be figured out, most of them dealing with the drone’s use of air space.

But, once it comes time for a drone to land, one of the major concerns is going to be dogs. The drones will deliver packages, guided by GPS, and leave them on a special welcome mat the customer has placed on a front porch or a back patio.

Some dogs, I suspect, will cower in fear when a drone appears overhead; maybe a few will take them in stride, but many will see them as humming and hovering monsters, intent on trying to invade their territory.

(Which, to me, is a pretty accurate description.)

A drone’s blades can inflict serious damage, and ingesting a drone’s parts could also be a hazard. And Amazon is not unaware of the potential liabilities.

So now it’s researching how to give drones some artificial intelligence — to equip them with the ability to protect themselves when they sense a danger to themselves or others.

Given it’s a dog friendly company, it’s not likely Amazon will arm drones to spray cayenne pepper when a dog approaches.

Dropping a couple of treats — charming as that would be, and though it works well for postal carriers — probably wouldn’t work, either.

More likely, the drones will be taught to just abort their landing and return to their home base if a dog’s presence is sensed.

That could ruin many a “same day delivery,” but, unless you are ordering insulin, is that really so important?

The best solution is pretty obvious. Drop the fanciful and futuristic pipe dream. Keep the skies clear. Let humans make the deliveries.

I’ll gladly wait another day, or two, or three, for my package in exchange for the benefits that would offer — jobs, peace and quiet, and safer dogs and children among them.

(Photos: At top, an Amazon delivery drone, courtesy of Amazon.com; lower, the Genibo SD Robotic Dog, available from Amazon)

Amazon knows how to treat its employees — and its employee’s dogs

amazondogs_9725-630x420

If its employees are a company’s most treasured resource — and if what those employees treasure most are their dogs — it makes perfect sense that Amazon is spending millions of dollars on an employee lounge and dog park at its expanding downtown campus.

The tech giant opened part of the dog park yesterday in the shadow of the Spheres, a unique glass structure that will open next year as a “relaxation area” for employees.

The dog park is the second that the dog-friendly company has provided for employees, but this one will also be open to the public as part of a public plaza that serves as the centerpiece of Amazon’s $4 billion downtown campus.

The dog park will be completed this summer with the installation of a turf field adjacent to the park. The Spheres, destined to become another feature of the Seattle skyline — albeit it a low-lying one — will open in 2018.

amazondogs_9377-630x420Inside the glorified greenhouse — consisting of three connected spheres, about five stories high — there will be hundreds of exotic plants, waterfalls, trees (with treehouses), all in a climate that resembles that of Costa Rica’s Central Valley.

Amazon, where employees regularly bring their dogs to work, is renowned as a dog-friendly company.

According to Geekwire.com, more than 2,000 dogs are registered at the company’s headquarters, where most reception desks are stocked with biscuits and some water fountains around campus are set at dog height.

Amazon has a special page on its website — “Meet the dogs of Amazon” — that profiles more than 30 pups.

Eliana Parenti, an instructional designer at Amazon, told Geekwire one of the main reasons she relocated from Miami with her two small dogs to work for the tech company was their dog policy.

“It’s the biggest perk of working here,” said Sebastian Kurin, a lawyer who works with the Amazon Web Services team. Bringing his dog Simba into work everyday was “something I was most excited about when I got a job offer at Amazon.”

Employees say their dogs provide stress relief and help the overall work environment at Amazon.

(Photos: By Taylor Soper / GeekWire.com)

Numbers of dogs in the workplace is rising

ginger

Thanks to the millennials, the percentage of American workplaces allowing dogs is increasing — up to 8 percent, from 5 percent five years ago.

NPR reported on the phenomena yesterday, citing examples of how employers — in an attempt to lure new employees by providing them with a low-cost benefit — are opening their doors to dogs.

Millennials (born between 1982 and 2004) are expected to make up half the work force by 2020, and they are expected to surpass baby boomers as the largest pet-owning generation around that same time.

Millennials tend to look at their pets “as practice families or substitute families and seem to be more verbal in their wants and needs for their pet and for making sure their pet is well tended and well cared for,” Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, told CNBC, which reported on the increasing numbers of dogs in the workplace last fall.

“Employers are starting to realize that having a millennial bring … a pet to work, you wind up getting a more focused employee, you get someone more comfortable at the office and a person willing to work longer hours,” Vetere added.

Some companies, CNBC reported, go to greater lengths than others to make those dogs feel welcome, offering play areas, free pet training, pet walkers, pet health insurance, offsite pet sitters and grooming services.

More than 2,000 dogs are brought in by employees regularly to Amazon’s main campus in Seattle, where about 25,000 employees work. The company provides doggy treats at all of its reception desks and each of the nearly 30 buildings on the campus has spaces for pet exercise.

replacementsxThe NPR report focused on Replacements, that dog-friendly North Carolina china warehouse we told you about back in April.

It has about 400 employees, and about 30 animals who come to work with them regularly.

“… The interesting thing is that we have never had a pet break anything here,” said public relations manager Lisa Conklin. “We’ve had people, myself included, who have broken a number of these delicate pieces. But we have never to our knowledge had a pet break anything.”

Conklin says the pets-at-work policy costs the company nothing, and staff often say it’s their favorite perk.

On top of boosting morale and productivity, as studies have shown it does, it lets workers feel they are achieving a work-life balance — something a lot of baby boomers I know weren’t the best at.

Having a successful dogs-in-the-workplace program requires some planning, and some patience, and some resourcefulness, say those who have instituted them.

The NPR story cited the case of Buchanan Public Relations, a company located outside Philadelphia, where Lacey, a Rottweiler mix, was regularly being terrorized by Romeo, a toy poodle with “a bit of a Napoleon complex.”

Company owner Anne Buchanan — instead of reneging on the pets-at-work policy — hired a dog trainer who managed to restore workplace harmony.

(Photos: At top, Ginger, an English bulldog, at work with owner, Will Pisnieski, at Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., by Grant Hindsley / AP; bottom photo, Charlie rides along with employee Kim Headen at Replacements, by Peter Taylor / AP)

Does Bentley really have a wish list?

bentleycrate


As America’s first quarantined dog of an Ebola patient, Bentley’s fame may be spreading as fast as the deadly virus he may or may not have.

So much so that we suspect the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is receiving more attention, donations and expressions of support — at least online — than his sick human, Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who contracted the disease while caring for the first Ebola victim to be diagnosed in America.

This being America, a dog-crazy land, that wouldn’t be too surprising.

That funds are being raised in his name isn’t too surprising either.

That he already has a “wish list” set up on Amazon? That’s a little surprising.

bentleyxAs soon as Bentley was moved Monday to the undisclosed (at least initially) location he’s being quarantined and monitored in, the campaigns to raise money in his name began — ostensibly to help pay for his care, in reality for much more.

“Poor Bentley the Dog Needs You to Buy 67 Items From His Amazon Wish List,” reads the headline on a Dallas Observer blog post.

We’re sure Bentley — being a dog, as opposed to a human — isn’t as selfish and greedy as his alleged wish list makes it appear.

We’re sure he doesn’t truly need a $239 Lawn Boy lawnmower; or a Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch Can Opener, in black and chrome; or a thermal label printer; or a $299 microchip reader; or a Bluetooth portable GPS navigator.

But between the news media delighting in tugging our heartstrings, and some savvy sorts at Dallas Animal Services who know a fundraising opportunity when they see one, that’s the way the story is coming across.

It started where all things start, or at least end up — on Facebook.

bentleyphamDallas Animal Services posted a picture (left)) wih a list of ways people could help support Bentley while he is in quarantine. The post pointed out that any extra donations — of paper towels, pee pads, toys and rawhide chews — would go to other dogs awaiting adoption.

It’s a pretty common practice among animal shelters — seizing upon the case of one sympathy-inducing dog to raise funds for more than just that one dog. It’s not an evil practice. It’s well-intentioned. While it may be a tad deceptive, it’s effective.

And given the total lack of foresight, knowledge and protocol when it comes to Ebola victims and their pets (we’ll talk more about this Monday), such fundraising techniques could prove highly necessary in the months and years ahead.

Bentley has served as a wake-up call — as, in a way, did Excalibur, the dog of Spain’s first Ebola patient. Excalibur was quickly destroyed, even though there’s no proof dogs can get Ebola or pass it on to humans.

While Dallas Animal Services is overseeing the care of Bentley — now sequestered at a decommissioned Naval air base nearby — the Dallas Fire Department’s Hazmat Response Team is doing the hands-on (and gloves on, and hazmat suits on) work, feeding and cleaning up after the dog.

Dallas Animal Services is continuing to keep the public posted on Bentley, mostly through its Facebook page, but its campaign to seek donations in his name apparently was toned down, if not halted, at least temporarily.

CBS in Dallas, which reported on the campaign, later reported that Dallas Animal Services has suspended its request for donations and pulled the Facebook post. Whether that’s because someone deemed it deceptive or exploitative isn’t known. No reason is given.

As for that Amazon “wish list,” it’s still up, but, just to be clear, those are items Dallas Animal Services need — not exclusively for the care of Bentley.

At the end of last week, a more formal funnel for donations helping the dogs of Ebola victims was set up. The city teamed up with Dallas Companion Animal Project, a nonprofit organization, which has created the Dallas Pet Emergency Transition Services fund to help pay for the care of pets affected by emergency events, including Ebola exposure.

(Photos: Dallas Animal Services)