Category Archives: News

Google parent company Alphabet held a secret ‘logistics summit’ last week with reps from FedEx and other shipping companies

Alphabet held a closed-door meeting with internal executives and external retailers last week to discuss potential investments and strategies in the logistics sector.

The event, which was held in Silicon Valley, was called the Alphabet Advanced Logistics Summit and hosted by Alphabet’s research and development unit, “X,” and its recently spun out infrastructure company Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, the company confirmed to CNBC. The objective was to explore potential business models and investment opportunities in the e-commerce space with a focus in logistics and fulfillment, according to three people who attended and photos viewed by CNBC.

“We frequently bring together stakeholders from across various industries to exchange ideas and brainstorm ways that technology can deliver innovative solutions in areas like logistics,” a company spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed response.

The majority of attendees were from Alphabet, which had several teams present, according to the people, who asked for anonymity when discussing the confidential meeting. It also included representatives from external companies including FedEx, JD.com, Deliv, Flexe and a former Walmart SVP, said one of the people who attended.

The discussions come as the company tries to expand its digital shopping reach amid retail giants such as Amazon and Alibaba, both of which have invested significantly in retail, technology and logistics. Alphabet invested $550 million in China’s second-largest online shopping service, JD.com, last year and began selling some of its goods in March.

It also comes a few months after Sidewalk Labs spun out a separate entity in August called Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, which is still backed by Alphabet and Sidewalk Labs. SIP focuses on owning, acquiring and investing in technology-enabled infrastructure, particularly in urban areas. Sidewalk Labs is known for working on a high-profile and controversial new urban smart city on the waterfront of Toronto, for which it released the master plan in June. That plan also included an underground “logistics hub.”

Analytics a major focus

The recent meeting’s discussions included predictive analytics, order fulfillment, package tracking, Bluetooth usage and drone delivery, according to the attendees.

Discussions also touched on how Amazon has hampered online retailers’ ability to reap proper value on their businesses.

Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners co-founders and co-CEOs Brian Barlow and Jonathan Winer were among the meeting’s main moderators. They outlined several points the company was using to consider potential business opportunities, including “Accelerating Fulfillment and Delivery” and “Automated, Advanced Warehousing.”

Alphabet executives seemed most interested in the analytics side of things, which could help customers predict what products they could buy and sell, attendees said. The company could break through in predictive fulfillment, which is an industry term that describes forecasting demand by predicting buyer and seller behavior. Discussions involved potentially being able to use the vast data from Google’s search queries and keywords.

“Expansion in the breadth of a fulfillment network requires either the flexible, low CapEx approach of an on-demand warehousing or a standardized, partially-automated facility using modular robotics,” read one Alphabet presentation slide titled “Key Question No. 3.” That slide gave examples of companies Fabric and Takeoff, Stord, Flexe and Darkstore.

Attendees also discussed the role of hardware and how drone delivery could be used. Wing, the drone company that spun out from Alphabet’s X division last year, beat Amazon in launching the nation’s first commercial retail delivery in partnership with Walgreens and FedEx last week. Alphabet aggressively ramped up transportation investments last year, many of which could conceivably be used in delivery.

“As last-mile delivery alternatives proliferate with the emergence of new companies and technologies, we anticipate the emergence of a marketplace to bid last-mile delivery across a wide range of options,” another one of Alphabet’s slides, titled “Key Question No. 1,” read.

Amazon announces three new renewable energy projects, including its first in Scotland

Amazon announced three renewable energy projects on Thursday, saying it was committed to minimizing carbon emissions following criticism earlier this year.

The tech giant said the facilities would provide energy to its Amazon Web Services data centers.

A wind farm, with a max capacity of 50 megawatts (MW), will be situated on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula and is expected to produce 168,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy each year. Amazon said the facility could power the equivalent of 46,000 U.K. homes and would be the U.K.’s “largest corporate wind power purchase agreement.”

Additionally, two solar projects in North Carolina and Virginia will amount to 215 MW of total capacity, with Amazon expecting them to produce 500,997 MWh per year. The projects announced Thursday are expected to start generating energy in 2021. They are not owned by the company, but it says its commitment to purchase their output enables the projects to be built.

In a statement issued Thursday, Amazon’s Director of Sustainability Kara Hurst said the firm was “committed to minimizing our carbon emissions and reaching 80% renewable energy use across the company by 2024.”

In June, Amazon was one of more than 700 firms targeted by 88 investors “for not reporting environmental information.” The aim of the investors was to push businesses such as Amazon to disclose information via the CDP, a not-for-profit platform which enables companies to divulge environmental performance data.

A few months earlier, in April, thousands of Amazon employees signed an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos and the firm’s board of directors, imploring them to take action on climate change.

In September, Amazon co-founded an initiative called The Climate Pledge, which asks signatories to become “net zero carbon across their businesses” by the year 2040.

It has also launched what it calls a “transparency website” which it uses to report on what it describes as its “sustainability commitments, initiatives, and performance.” The site also has information on the firm’s carbon footprint, which it reports as being 44.40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for the 2018 fiscal year.

Amazon is just one of many global technology firms looking to power operations using renewable sources of energy.

In March 2019, for example, Microsoft signed a 15-year power purchase agreement for the energy produced by a 74-megawatt solar power facility in North Carolina, while in April 2018 Apple announced its global facilities were powered using “100 percent clean energy.”

Making sure that its facilities are powered by clean energy is a multi-faceted process for Apple.

In its Environmental Responsibility Report covering the 2018 fiscal year the California-headquartered firm said that, where feasible, it sourced renewable energy by building its own projects.

In addition, it invests capital to become a part owner in wind and solar projects and signs “long-term renewable energy contracts.”

In Finland, an ‘intelligent’ office could change the way people think about working

From desk-based lunches and family photos pinned on walls to hours spent working overtime, the buildings we work in can often resemble a second home.

Whether this is a good or bad thing is open to debate, but one thing is for sure: the way an office space is designed — and the technology used within that space — can impact the wellbeing, happiness and productivity of a workforce.

In Finland, one firm has designed what it describes as an “intelligent head office.” Opened in late 2016, Tieto’s re-designed headquarters near Helsinki boasts a platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certificate.

Tieto’s Jyri Kivinen said the digital space the firm had built on top of infrastructure meant it could “now monitor the wellbeing of the people, see the people flows and the utilizations of different floors.”

The company’s Tieto Empathic Building solution uses smart technology to provide a wealth of information on the office environment. Using an on-screen interface, employees can find free workstations, find out where their colleagues are and search for work spaces based on air quality, temperature and noise.

Kivinen said that the biggest issue when trying to make buildings more sustainable was “the current infrastructure, the current hardware that is installed in these buildings.”

“They have been implemented throughout several decades so the systems usually don’t actually already communicate with each other,” he added.

These developments might have a futuristic feel, but how realistic is it to create a human-centric building that is able to improve the well-being of people inside it?

“It absolutely is,” Derek Clements-Croome, an emeritus professor at the University of Reading, told CNBC. “We … are sensory beings, we live through our senses: the look and feel of the place, the colors, the air, the views out of the windows,” he added. “All of these things have an effect on our emotions, our physical being, our general positive outlook in the daily life that we lead.”

Chinese yuan could head to 7.2 versus dollar in November, Goldman says

The Chinese yuan is expected to show some near-term weakness against the U.S. dollar, according to investment bank Goldman Sachs.

On Friday afternoon, the onshore yuan changed hands at 7.0663 at 2:28 p.m. HK/SIN after the People’s Bank of China fixed the day’s midpoint for the exchange rate at 7.0749.

“We forecast a rise back to 7.20 versus the dollar, so trading towards the weak end of the band around the fix,” Zach Pandl, co-head of global foreign-exchange rates and emerging markets strategy at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday.

That move will likely happen “over the course of the next month, is our best guess,” he added.

Earlier this month, when the U.S. and China reached a partial breakthrough in trade negotiations, the yuan strengthened from levels near 7.11 to around 7.06 per dollar.

China maintains strict control of its currency’s exchange rate for the onshore yuan, which is traded on the mainland. It is allowed to trade within a narrow band of 2% above or below the day’s midpoint rate, and if it deviates too far, the Chinese central bank steps in to put a lid on volatility.

The yuan weakened past a psychologically important level of 7 per dollar in August, which led analysts to believe that China could let its currency weaken to help offset the impact of higher duties on Chinese exports to the U.S.

A weak currency makes a country’s exports cheaper on international markets, and therefore more attractive.

EU delays its decision on Brexit extension after Boris Johnson pushes for an election

The current limbo for Brexit is set to last until early next week after EU ambassadors failed to reach an agreement over the U.K.’s request for a deadline extension.

On Friday morning, EU ambassadors discussed what sort of delay should be granted to the U.K. for its current Brexit deadline of October 31. They accepted that a delay was needed but couldn’t agree on a firm date.

“There was full agreement on the need for an extension. There was full agreement to reach a unanimous, consensual EU27 decision and there was full agreement to aim to take the decision by written procedure,” an EU source, who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the talks, told CNBC Friday about the ambassadors meeting.

“Work will continue over the weekend,” the same source told CNBC, adding that the ambassadors are set to meet again “early next week” to finalize the agreement.

The ambassadors to the EU present their country’s position and prepare the background work for European leaders, who make the final call on most policies, including granting the U.K. a third Brexit extension.

France, which has taken the toughest position on Brexit deadlines compared to the other EU countries, does not want the U.K.’s departure to interfere with the EU’s upcoming political cycle.

The European Commission — the executive arm of the EU — will see a new team installed in the coming months. Granting a Brexit delay beyond this start date would mean these new officials would have to deal with the U.K.’s departure and potentially be forced to include a representative from the U.K. too. Some believe the next Commission should be focused on other policy areas rather than Brexit.

Amélie de Montchalin, the French minister for European affairs, told RTL radio on Wednesday that France is not seeking to give the U.K. an ultimatum. “The question is knowing why we should give more time. Giving more time alone is not a solution,” she said.