Four hundred specialists to be hired at new tech centre to fine tune tech giant’s Amazon Prime delivery drones and its Alexa digital assistant system
Amazon is to more than triple its research and development team in Cambridge working on tech innovations such as its Alexa digital assistant, delivery drones and Echo smart speaker.
The US online retailer is opening a new building in the city with room for 400 experts in mathematical modelling, speech science, machine learning and “knowledge engineering”.
Once full, the 60,000 sq ft centre adjacent to Cambridge train station will increase the number of Amazon tech experts in the city to 550.
Amazon’s existing development centre in the city’s Castle Hill area will switch to focus on developing the company’s drone delivery system, Prime Air.
Prime Air successfully made its first trial delivery – a TV streaming stick and bag of popcorn – to the garden of a customer in Cambridge in December.
“We are constantly inventing on behalf of our customers, and our development centres in Cambridge, Edinburgh and London play a major role in Amazon’s global innovation story,” said Doug Gurr, UK country manager for Amazon.
“By the end of this year, we will have more than 1,500 innovation-related roles here in Britain, working on everything from machine learning and drone technology to streaming video technology and Amazon Web Services.”
Amazon’s investment in research and development comes as the tech giants vie for ascendancy in the developing market for digital assistants.
Amazon’s Alexa is up against Google Home and Apple’s Siri, all of which allow users to check the weather, order shopping or control home heating and entertainment systems in the their homes using voice control.
The retailer has also been developing a number of devices that utilise Alexa, including Echo Look, a smart camera that uses machine learning to give fashion advice.
Amazon appears to be preparing to open checkout-free grocery stores in Britain after registering a UK trademark for its Amazon Go format.
The retailer began testing its first bricks and mortar foodstore on 5 December near its headquarters in Seattle, in the north-west US. It uses automatic sensors to add items to shoppers’ accounts rather than paying for them at a till. However, opening to the public has been delayed after some technical glitches.
If the stores open in the UK, it would mark a major step up in Amazon’s efforts to take a share of the British grocery market since the launch of the Fresh delivery service last summer and its tie-up with the Bradford-based supermarket chain Morrisons.
Amazon’s total UK workforce is expected to grow from 19,000 to 24,000 over the course of 2017, the vast majority of whom will work in its delivery warehouses.
The company plans to have 15 delivery warehouses across the UK by the end of this year. It opened a new site in Daventry in February, with centres at Doncaster, Warrington and Tilbury to begin operation in the autumn.