Weekend Roundup: E-Commerce Drone Wars; Waze Layoffs

Welcome to the weekend, everyone! Here are some of the tech stories from the week that you might have missed, including a brewing battle over drone delivery between Walmart and Amazon, as well as some layoffs at a Google subsidiary. 

Drone Delivery: Next Battlefield in the E-Commerce Wars

Amazon has been fiddling around with drone delivery for years, although its efforts have been stalled by niceties such as FAA approval and widespread worries over malfunctioning chunks of metal dropping out of the sky.  

The e-commerce giant finally landed that FAA approval last month (yes, pun intended), which means the day is coming when you might order a 12-pack of toilet paper and have it deposited on your lawn within the hour by a buzzing drone with the Amazon logo on its flank. But Amazon might not lack for competition on the drone front: Walmart is apparently planning its own drone delivery fleet. 

“We know that it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone,” Walmart senior vice president Tom Ward is quoted as saying in a corporate blog post (hat tip to The Verge for surfacing it first). “That still feels like a bit of science fiction, but we’re at a point where we’re learning more and more about the technology that is available and how we can use it to make our customers’ lives easier.”

Walmart is starting off with a pilot program in North Carolina, with drones capable of traveling roughly six miles and carrying up to 6.6 pounds. If that’s successful, and if the company can negotiate some of the same hurdles that confronted Amazon in its own drone quest, it could expand the project. And you know what that might mean: delivery drone traffic jams. Yay.

Layoffs Hit Google’s Waze 

Waze, the navigation-app startup that Google acquired for a little over $1 billion in 2013, is laying off 5 percent of its staff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to reports. Worldwide lockdowns mean fewer drivers on the road, which has meant fewer people utilizing the Waze app, which has murdered the ad revenue that Waze relies upon. 

The layoffs will impact 30 people out of a workforce of approximately 555 employees, and CEO Noam Bardin wrote in a letter to employees that the savings from those cuts would be redirected to hire more technologists. “We’ve decided to focus our resources on product improvements for our users, accelerate our investments in technical infrastructure, and refocus our sales and marketing efforts on a small number of high-value countries,” he wrote in part. “These investments ensure the long-term success of Waze and that we exit this pandemic stronger than we entered it.”

As others have pointed out, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit transportation-related technology companies particularly hard. Ridesharing startups such as Lyft and Uber have been forced to either pursue alternative lines of business (food delivery, in Uber’s case) and/or lay off employees (Lyft). The lack of people on the road has also forced scooter-sharing firms such as Lime to drastically reconsider how they do business

Apple’s Floating Store 

Not content to simply build a store on dry land like a normal company, Apple has constructed a “floating sphere” of a store in Singapore. It’s made almost entirely of glass, with a design “inspired by the Pantheon in Rome” (in Apple’s words); you can get a glimpse of the exterior in the image above. 

Does this mean that Apple will soon construct floating stores in, say, New York and San Francisco? It’s impossible to tell. As we head into the weekend, though, it’s worth taking a moment to marvel at what a technology company can do when it has a mountain of money to spend on aesthetics.

Have a great weekend, everybody! Stay safe!