Can Amazon's secret lab design a smarter home?

Amazon wants to craft a smart home full of connected devices, according to a new report. Will the 'Internet of Things' help push people to buy not only more gadgets, but more household goods?

Gus Ruelas/Reuters
Jeff Bezos

Amazon may be looking to expand its line of home smart devices. A report from Reuters shows that the company is pouring $55 million into Lab126, which was responsible for developing the Amazon Kindle and the Amazon Fire phone. Amazon is also expanding its staff to about 3,757 people by 2019, up from nearly 3,000 this year.

The expansion, Reuters says, comes in light of other tech giants’ forays into the “smart home” territory and integration into the broader Internet of Things. Google made moves in January 2014 with its acquisition of Nest, which makes a smart thermostat and smoke detector, and Apple made progress with HomeKit, a framework that allows Apple devices to communicate with other Internet-connected home appliances and smart devices.

Amazon is testing an embeddable Wi-Fi-enabled device that can notify customers when appliances need replacing and order supplies with the press of a button, similar to the one-click purchase button on Amazon.com. Customers will know, far in advance, when they’ll need to replace something at home.

These decisions are running counter to tepid reception for the Fire phone, which featured a built-in item scanner that could analyze photos for products people can buy on Amazon, an almost literal extension of Amazon Prime. It is expected that Amazon’s forays into the "smart home" would do much of the same.

It helps that Amazon’s vision for expanding into the Internet of Things is clear.

“As cynical as it sounds, it’s not the more unrealistic vision of the connected home,” writes Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan for Gizmodo, a technology news outlet. “As Apple, for example, is still figuring out exactly what HomeKit does,” she says, “Amazon already has a very specific vision—and business model—it’s betting on.”

Coupled with the possibility of delivering groceries and packages via drone, Amazon might just be striding headfirst into science fiction territory. The only thing holding them back is approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and, of course, resistance towards the burgeoning technocracy.

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