Amazon seeks FCC permission to run undisclosed tests in Washington State

The online retailer has remained tight-lipped about the nature and scope of its plans.

Reed Saxon/AP/File
Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos speaks in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2012. His firm sought permission from the Federal Communications Commission to conduct undisclosed experiments in Washington State for five months beginning Feb. 11, 2017.

An application filed with the US federal government suggests that Amazon has plans to experiment this year with wireless communications technology, perhaps signaling aims for a new product or service. But the company has remained reticent with the details, declining to elaborate publicly on the sparse filing.

Amazon asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permission to test undisclosed prototypes and their related software for five months in and around its Seattle headquarters. The experiments will involve mobile devices and anchored stations alike, according to an FCC application made public last week and first reported by Business Insider's Eugene Kim, who noted the project could be part of Amazon's drone-delivery initiatives or something even more novel.

Amazon has repeatedly declined to answer questions about the application and any related plans.

"We don't comment on rumors and speculation," a company spokesman told The Christian Science Monitor in an email Sunday.

In recent years, Google and Facebook have begun conducting wireless experiments of their own with FCC approval, pursuing a number of innovative projects, such as self-driving cars, as Mr. Kim reported. Amazon, meanwhile, has focused on its aspirations of drone delivery service for its online retail business – a service the firm has pursued in Britain and several other countries as well. Given the company's wide-ranging interests, it is difficult to anticipate precisely what the tests entail.

Last year alone, Amazon unveiled projects to change the way people grocery shop, offer drivers a voice-activated driving assistant, and ship cargo with its own branded planes, as the Monitor reported.

"Innovation is one of our guiding principles at Amazon, and it’s created hundreds of thousands of American jobs," founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said in a statement last week, announcing plans to create 100,000 new full-time jobs company-wide over the next 18 months – a move that would grow Amazon's existing 180,000-person workforce by more than 55 percent.

"Many of the roles will be in new fulfillment centers that have been announced over the past several months and are currently under construction in Texas, California, Florida, New Jersey and many other states across the country," the company said.

Amazon's application to the FCC notes that the tests would begin indoors at the Seattle headquarters then later move outdoors to a customer service site more than 220 miles away, in Kennewick, Wash. The tests would last five months, beginning as early as Feb. 11, 2017, the documents state.

Neil Woodward, a retired astronaut with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who now serves as senior manager for Amazon's drone-delivery project, is listed as the company's main point of contact.

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