- Delivery robots are on the way…
- Amazon is taking on health care…
- A new development in this spacefaring mystery…
I’ve always resisted the opportunity to play an April Fools’ Day joke with my subscribers.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but too many things can go wrong. After all, we’ve all experienced those moments when we’ve read something and misunderstood the meaning… only to realize a few minutes later that the meaning was something else entirely.
If we’re not having a discussion in person where we can chuckle or smirk to indicate it’s just a joke, it is too easy to confuse, distract, or even upset someone. And that’s not my goal.
But we are going to have a laugh at a company whose joke caused nothing but trouble.
On Tuesday, Volkswagen’s U.S. subsidiary announced that it would rebrand itself as “Voltswagen of America.” The purpose of this name change was to promote its electric car strategy.
The announcement was made in concert with the rollout of its new electric SUV, the ID.4.
The problem was that nearly everyone took the rebranding seriously. While the name was silly, it was somewhat believable. After all, Volkswagen has been pushing its plans for half of all vehicle sales in the U.S. to be electric by 2030.
Electric vehicle companies are hot in the market right now, and people thought Volkswagen was making an even bigger play with electric vehicles.
Yet it isn’t. It was a spoof, a gag, a complete joke.
The key to a good April Fools’ Day joke is that it has to be so obviously a joke that it can’t be misunderstood. For example:
Biden Unveils $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan to Mail Every U.S. Citizen Envelope of Wet Cement – The Onion
Parents Disguising Kids as Illegal Immigrants So They Can Receive In-Person Teaching – The Babylon Bee
Volkswagen’s joke wasn’t like that. It was believable. And its gaffe was even more hilarious considering its massive emissions scandal back in 2015.
It seems like such a long time ago, but we remember…
The company’s engineers had programmed their diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing in order to momentarily meet U.S. emissions standards.
In the real world, the cars emitted as much as 40 times more NOx than during the emissions tests. A U.S. federal judge ordered Volkswagen to pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine for rigging emissions tests.
Volkswagen’s CEO was also charged with fraud and conspiracy. And the whole scandal has cost Volkswagen $33.3 billion to date.
The company’s share price fell by 55% in the second half of 2015 when this was all happening. And it suffered all the way through last year as it cleaned up the mess and reputational damage it had created.
On the back of its latest electrification plans during the last 12–18 months, the stock finally recovered above its previous all-time highs.
And what did the stock do this Tuesday when the company released this highly misleading change of name?
The stock jumped about 9% on the news. One might make a strong argument that there is intent for market manipulation. I wouldn’t be surprised a bit if the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is having a look at this one.
Shocking, isn’t it?
Now let’s turn to today’s insights…
Checking back in on Agility Robotics…
We talked about early stage company Agility Robotics way back in June 2019. This is the company that was working on bipedal robots capable of delivering packages right to our door.
At the time, it had just inked a deal with Ford to pilot these robots out in the field.
Well, Agility Robotics has been busy since then. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated development, and the company just launched its first commercial product. The robot is called Digit. Check it out:
Source: Agility Robotics
As we can see, Digit is incredibly nimble. It can walk on uneven surfaces and climb stairs. It can also sit down, which is necessary for riding in the back of delivery vans. Digit can also lift and carry packages up to 40 pounds.
And Digit is now weather-proof. The robot can handle light rain, wind, and dust. In other words, it has been industrialized. Digit is perfectly capable of dealing with less-than-ideal delivery conditions.
Ford was the first major company to invest in these robots. The legacy car company has been testing them out using its fleet of self-driving vans. The ultimate goal is to sell a turnkey, fully automated delivery system to companies like Amazon, UPS, or FedEx.
I can envision a self-driving truck pulling into a neighborhood and three or four of these robots getting out, packages in hand. They will each take the package to the right house and then hop back into the truck for the next delivery. Talk about efficiency.
And it would remove the tiring, back-breaking work required by humans. In a post-pandemic world, we are going to see even higher levels of e-commerce and home delivery than we saw before. These are new habits that will persist.
And we can expect these robots to be deployed in warehouses and logistics facilities as well. They’ll be a supplement to the kinds of robotic systems capable of lifting and moving shelves of products like the Amazon acquisition of Kiva Systems back in 2012.
So we can expect to see Digit start to be deployed commercially this year. It will be interesting to see the human response to a robot that takes on a human shape.
It’s clear that Agility intentionally didn’t design a “head” to keep it from looking too humanoid. I expect the rollout will be slow at first, though. Each robot costs $250,000 right now, which is too high for rapid adoption.
However, Agility Robotics’ goal is to get that price down to $70,000. That will come as volume starts to pick up. That’s when we’ll see much wider adoption.
Our prediction for Amazon Care just came true…
Big news. Amazon just announced that Amazon Care is rolling out nationwide – just as we predicted.
We first talked about Amazon Care in November of last year. This is the telehealth service Amazon launched internally for employees in Seattle. It enabled employees to have live video chats with doctors and nurses through a platform Amazon designed.
The doctors can diagnose conditions and recommend treatment right over these video chats. Sometimes that meant seeing a specialist in person. And sometimes the doctors prescribed medicine to the patient on the spot.
And if necessary, Amazon was able to send out a physician or nurse directly to the employee’s home. Imagine that…
Thanks to Amazon Pharmacy, patients could have their prescription medicine delivered directly to their door. These deliveries flowed through Amazon Prime’s logistics network. That means two-day and sometimes same-day delivery.
The end result is that Amazon’s employees in Seattle no longer needed to physically go to the doctor’s office or the local pharmacy. No more sitting in waiting rooms. No more standing in lines. No more filling out forms. Amazon handles everything, including all the paperwork, on the backend.
At the time, I said that this looked like a test run. I predicted that Amazon would test this model on its employees, work out the kinks, and then expand it into a country-wide telehealth service.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Amazon Care is now expanding to all Amazon employees, and it will be offered to other companies as a workplace benefit as well.
This is a huge, multibillion-dollar initiative for Amazon. That’s why shares of telehealth giant Teledoc dropped 8% right after this announcement.
What we are really looking at here is a digital leap. For context, let’s compare this to the initial rise of Walmart several decades ago.
We know that Walmart offered an incredible selection of products at cheap prices. But there was more to its success.
Walmart also made essential services convenient. It put a bank branch in the store. It also has a hair salon on the premises, a pharmacy, and an optometrist. And some Walmarts even have small medical clinics.
This enabled consumers to go shopping and tackle some errands and appointments all in the same place. They didn’t need to drive all over town to get everything done.
This was incredibly innovative at the time, and it was key to its bricks-and-mortar strategy. But that’s the analog version. People still need to go to the store. Amazon is making this model completely digital.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many consumers are now doing much of their shopping on Amazon rather than in a local store. With Amazon Care, consumers will also be able to see the doctor and get their prescription medicines online – all without ever leaving the comfort of their home.
So this is a comprehensive digital version of health care and pharmacy services wrapped into Amazon’s Prime membership. That’s a digital leap. And this means that Amazon is about to disrupt yet another major industry.
Please don’t forget to sign up for my upcoming America’s Last Digital Leap summit on what I believe could be the very last digital leap we see… which means the last time investors could see major profits from this kind of shift.
Did an extraterrestrial object enter our solar system?
We’ll wrap up today with an interesting debate in the scientific community.
A strange object entered our solar system back in 2017. It received a lot of attention because it wasn’t a comet or an asteroid. And it made some movements that weren’t consistent with those of other interstellar objects.
Scientists named this object ‘Oumuamua after the Hawaiian word for scout or messenger. Here is an artist’s rendering of it:
The arrival of ‘Oumuamua prompted Harvard professor Avi Loeb to write a book titled Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth. Needless to say, it has been controversial. As an academic, you can do wonderful things once you have tenure.
In the book, Loeb raised the possibility that this object was of artificial origin. We couldn’t identify what it was made of, and its movements couldn’t be compared to those of comets or asteroids.
Loeb even suggested that this object could be from another intelligent species. Perhaps it was conducting surveillance on our solar system from afar.
This sparked a debate in the astronomy and astrophysics community. And two scientists at Arizona State University recently came out and said Loeb’s analysis was nonsense. They said that this was simply part of a Pluto-sized object that had been ejected somewhere outside of our solar system.
These two scientists also suggested that Loeb was wrong about the object’s shape. They said it wasn’t an unidentifiable oblong object at all. Instead, they said it was pancake-shaped, like this:
New ‘Oumuamua Rendering
The Arizona State scientists think that it is composed of frozen nitrogen. It’s something akin to a chunk of a very old interstellar object that was thrown out of its own solar system.
What’s interesting is that, if we imagine rotating this pancake-like object to an orientation where we are only seeing the edge of it, it will indeed look like an oblong object. Perspective is everything.
So this is certainly an interesting debate. If any readers have explored this further or read Loeb’s book, I would love your feedback. What do you think? Is this an extraterrestrial object?
Please send me your feedback right here.
As I write, the object is speeding out of our solar system faster than we could ever catch up to it. We’ll likely never know the real answer.
And that may be exactly why Mr. Loeb wrote the book… It’s unlikely that anyone would ever be able to empirically prove that he was wrong.
Still, this has been fun to watch. And now that the age of space exploration is upon us, we will certainly encounter more and more interesting objects out in space.
Editor, The Bleeding Edge
P.S. As we noted, Amazon’s latest “digital leap” is a multibillion-dollar opportunity. But this isn’t the big digital leap story unfolding today.
Right now, an entire $11.9 trillion industry is cutting through the red tape of the analog world to make a massive digital leap. This is going to provide us with some unbelievable investment opportunities in the months ahead.
I’ve been furiously researching this developing event, and I have uncovered the absolute best way to play it. I’m going to reveal my research at an investment summit next week. This is something tech savvy investors won’t want to miss.
So please mark your calendar for Wednesday, April 7. That night, I’ll pull back the curtain on this upcoming digital leap and how we need to position ourselves for it. We’ll get started at 8 p.m. ET sharp.
Please go right here to reserve your spot.
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