Amazon (AMZN) has come a long way since its beginnings as a humble online bookseller.
Twenty-five years since it was founded by Jeff Bezos in his Seattle-area garage on July 5, 1994, Amazon has evolved into one of the most influential companies in the world, with reach into a vast array of industries, from its core e-commerce and cloud businesses to hardware, entertainment, advertising and more. Its current $950 billion market cap makes it the second most valuable company in the world as of July 5, behind only Microsoft's (MSFT) $1.05 trillion.
Despite Amazon's success and market power, Bezos has mused that Amazon's dominance won't last forever and even predicted at an all-hands company meeting last November that eventually it would be eclipsed. "Amazon is not too big to fail," Bezos said, in a recording heard by CNBC. "If you look at large companies, their lifespans tend to be 30-plus years, not a hundred-plus years."
The keys to avoiding or at least putting off this decline, according to Bezos, are to maintain its customer obsession, continue its "high-velocity decision making" and embrace big, external trends.
So what else could the future hold for Amazon? Here's a look at some of the more forward-looking initiatives the company and its founder working on, and how they could play out in the years to come.
Amazon first introduced robots in its fulfillment centers back in 2014, with a mobile storage unit called Atlas. Since then, it's gradually incorporated more automation and robotics systems into its fulfillment network that work alongside humans to help sort and move orders; in April, it acquired Canvas, which makes robotic carts powered by computer vision. What's lacking are robots that can grasp objects as well as a human can.
In an interview at the Re:MARS conference in June, Bezos said that he believes that nimbler robots, with finer motor skills, are one innovation that's coming sooner than people think: "Grasping is going to be a solved problem in the next 10 years, even in a commercial way," Bezos told an audience. That advancement, if incorporated successfully into Amazon warehouses, could improve efficiency across its hundreds of operational facilities.
Just four years after Alexa was born, Amazon's virtual assistant seems to be everywhere. As of January, there were 150 available devices with Alexa built into them -- from wall clocks to microwaves and subwoofers -- and another 28,000 devices that are compatible with Alexa. While Alexa may be the most visible example of how Amazon is bringing ambient computing to life, there are more projects in the works that could supercharge computing across the globe.
One such initiative is Amazon's Project Kuiper, the goal of which is to launch a network of 3,200 low-orbit satellites to blanket the earth with high-speed internet access. It's worth remembering, as well, that an explosion of connectivity, and connected devices, across the globe will demand ever more cloud computing services -- a trend that Amazon's AWS is well-positioned to capture.
Space and Beyond
Although it's not part of Amazon, Bezos has big ambitions for his space flight company, Blue Origin. It's much more than just a pet project. On a rocket called New Shepard, which is currently used for research payloads, the company plans to send a few lucky humans into orbit later this year.
And space flight could be just the beginning, if Bezos' vision comes to fruition. At the Re:MARS conference, Bezos described the possibilities for mining the moon for raw materials to make rocket propellent, and eventually, moving polluting "heavy industry" off Earth entirely and turning the moon into an industrial center.
Bezos said that the mission of Blue Origin is "to build that infrastructure so future generations can stand on top of it, just like I stood on top of the USPS." Asked whether we'll see Amazon fulfillment centers on the moon someday, he quipped: "We'll start out delivering liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen -- it will be a small selection, but an important one."
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