Amazon dips toe in connected home industry

According to reports, the online retail giant is quietly exploring the business potential of smart appliances and the connected home.

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Credit: Amazon

In order to research, develop and test Internet-connected smart home devices, Amazon plans to boost staffing levels at a secretive hardware unit over the next five years.

The online retail giant will increase employee numbers by at least 27 percent over the next few years at the Silicon-Valley unit, as reported by Reuters on Wednesday. The publication cites a government document and people familiar with the matter while saying that Amazon plans to invest in smart appliances and the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT) -- devices which are connected to the Web -- despite the lukewarm success of the firm's last hardware venture, the Amazon Fire smartphone.

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An agreement between the firm and US state of California stipulates that the secretive hardware unit, Lab126, will boost full-time staff by at least 3,757 people by 2019. This, in turn, will give the online retail giant $1.2 million in tax breaks.

In total, Amazon will invest $55 million in Lab126 in Sunnyvale and Cupertino.

Lab126, responsible for the Kindle e-reader and Fire smartphone , is testing a Wi-Fi-enabled device which allows customers to order products like washing powder just by touching a button in their home, according to Reuters sources. If successful, this could give Amazon access to an even wider retail audience, lured by a simple way to order household goods -- as well as valuable troves of data concerning consumer spending habits.

In addition, the unit is also exploring the possibility of wearable devices, although no specific details are available.

Amazon spokeswoman Kinley Pearsall said:

"We will continue to invent and create new features, services and products, and to support this innovation. Lab 126 is also growing very quickly."

The expansion of Lab126 could bring the firm up against rivals including Google, Apple and Samsung, all of which are experimenting with various types of connected, smart technology. Google recently acquired smart thermostat maker Nest Labs, whereas Apple recently unveiled the Watch wearable device and a framework for connecting household gadgets, HomeKit. Samsung is a well-established figure in the appliances industry, and the company also revealed a connected devices platform this year dubbed Smart Home.

In related news, Amazon's head of digital music and video, Bill Carr, plans to leave the company by the end of the year to move on to another job. Carr has been an important figure in pushing forward Amazon's online video streaming service.

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