Amazon.com Inc. is planning to invest US$1 billion in companies developing technologies in logistics, supply chain management, and safety, as the retailer seeks to keep an eye on new ideas that might aid its core business.
The Seattle company on 21 April said it was launching the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, a venture investment program that will back companies “of all stages” working on technology to increase e-commerce delivery speeds and improve the experience of workers in warehousing and logistics. Amazon didn’t specify how many companies it aimed to invest in, or a timeline for the program.
Alex Ceballos Encarnacion, vice president of worldwide corporate development, said in an Amazon blog post that target companies may work with Amazon, or opt to grow on their own. “We’re excited to help advance these technologies as online shopping becomes even more important to people who are looking for more convenience and time savings,” he said.
The Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund will focus on new technologies that will “increase delivery speed and further improve the experience” of warehouse and logistics employees.
In recent years Amazon has sought to link that group’s work publicly to corporate priorities, including investments in voice and speech recognition software through the Alexa Fund, and a US$2 billion fund targeting climate technology.
The new fund’s focus on employee experiences comes as Amazon takes criticism from politicians and labor unions for its fast pace of work and high injury rates in some logistics facilities.
Start-ups backed by the new fund include Modjoul, a company developing wearable safety technology that issues alerts and recommendations aimed at reducing injuries, such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), or strains and sprains.
MSDs are some of the company’s most common warehouse injuries, and founder Jeff Bezos has previously said Amazon needs to develop solutions to reduce their prevalence among new employees. Amazon has pledged to become “The Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” following increased pressure from lawmakers, advocacy groups, and its own employees over how it treats its warehouse workers.
Three other companies included in the first round of investments are developing robotics “designed to complement and coexist with people’s lives,” Amazon said.
Ten years ago, the company acquired Kiva Systems, which created wheeled robots for warehouses. Since then, Amazon has launched a number of robotic fulfillment centers with the aim of speeding up the delivery of products to consumers. Last year, it shared details of four warehouse robots it’s testing to reduce strenuous movements for workers.