Weekend Roundup: Amazon vs. COVID-19; Apple Planning VR Headset?

What a week, huh? We have a new President, and he’s coming into office with a whole lot of plans. Just in case you were distracted by all the Inauguration-related news, we have a roundup of some of the week’s big tech stories you might have missed, including Amazon’s big offer to the federal government to help with COVID-19, and yet another burst of rumors around Apple’s big AR/VR plans. 

Let’s jump in! 

Amazon Wants to Help with Vaccinations 

Amazon has a message for incoming U.S. President Joe Biden: We want to help with the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. “Our scale allows us to make a meaningful impact immediately in the fight against COVID-19, and we stand ready to assist you in this effort,” Dave Clark, Amazon’s worldwide operations leader, wrote in a letter to the administration (hat tip for reprinting the letter goes to The Verge).

In theory, Amazon could offer vaccine shots at its facilities scattered around the country, from warehouses to Whole Foods stores. Given the e-commerce giant’s logistical expertise, it’s perhaps an offer that the federal government should take seriously—although what Amazon may eventually want in return (aside from goodwill from the federal government) is an open question.

This isn’t the first time that a tech giant has offered its help amidst a national crisis. In the aftermath of 9/11, for example, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison offered to donate software to run a massive government database for identifying people (had that plan gone into effect, of course, the Feds might have needed to keep paying Oracle to maintain it). Such offers may come with strings attached, of course—but given the national need to quickly vaccinate as many people as possible against COVID-19, the federal government may end up considering Amazon’s offer. 

Apple VR

Another day, another rumor about Apple’s upcoming plans for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The latest scuttlebutt, fresh from Bloomberg, suggests that Apple’s first VR headset could launch in 2022. As you might expect with a new Apple product, it may also be quite expensive, with limited sales projected for the first year.  

Apple has reportedly been working on AR and VR hardware and software for years. In mid-2020, for example, “Apple leaker” Jon Prosser (who has a pretty good track record) suggested that “Apple Glass” would tether to a user’s iPhone to deliver AR experiences to the lenses. But he also predicted that Apple would roll out the device in either the last quarter of 2020 or the first quarter of 2021, which doesn’t seem likely to happen at this juncture.

If Apple does indeed launch a VR headset, it’ll need the software to support it. If Apple executives push VR apps and software at the next WWDC, it’ll be a clear sign that the company has something in the works. 

Trump Pardons Anthony Levandowski

Once upon a time, Anthony Levandowski was a major player in the race to create fully autonomous vehicles. He helped develop self-driving technology at Google (which later spun off its self-driving efforts into a new company, Waymo) before leaving to launch a self-driving truck company, Otto, which was then acquired by Uber.

In exchange for this technological expertise (and positioning Otto for a lucrative acquisition), Levandowski earned a lot of money and an outsized reputation as a technology genius. However, things fell apart when Google accused him of stealing trade secrets on the way out the door. Uber, concerned about its own liability, promptly fired him. In the end, he was found guilty of theft and sentenced to 18 months in prison. If that wasn’t bad enough, the court also ordered him to repay Google $179 million.

Yes, things were looking pretty bad for Levandowski—until now-former U.S. President Donald Trump decided to grant him a pardon on his last day in the White House. Here’s the official statement on the matter (the original White House web page seems to have been taken down, but TechCrunch reposted it in full): 

“Anthony Levandowski — President Trump granted a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski. This pardon is strongly supported by James Ramsey, Peter Thiel, Miles Ehrlich, Amy Craig, Michael Ovitz, Palmer Luckey, Ryan Petersen, Ken Goldberg, Mike Jensen, Nate Schimmel, Trae Stephens, Blake Masters, and James Proud, among others. Mr. Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology. Mr. Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation. Notably, his sentencing judge called him a “brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs.” Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”

Although it seems he dodged a prison sentence, Levandowski is likely still bankrupt. Remember, kids, crime doesn’t pay. 

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!