Amazon Goes Aerial (plus more from Spotify & Disney)

Amazon’s aerial vehicle fleet, Spotify’s plagiarism detector & Disney’s robot actors

Sign up to uncover the latest in emerging technology.

Amazon’s aerial vehicle fleet, Spotify’s plagiarism detector & Disney’s robot actors

1. Amazon – aerial vehicle fleet maintenance

Amazon’s latest patent application gives an insight into how they’re thinking about managing a fleet of aerial vehicles (i.e. delivery drones).

Battery charging and general management of battery health are essential to keeping enough aerial vehicles operational to fulfil vehicle demand. One big logistical challenge will be doing this efficiently.

Amazon’s solution includes building charging rails that the aerial vehicles can couple onto via charging cables. The charging rails will be connected to a power source that will then charge the batteries of the vehicles.

While charging, the rails will also have ultrasonic emitters to measure and detect the health of the batteries. By emitting ultrasonic waves towards the batteries, sensors will then receive echoes of what’s reflected back, and use this to understand the physical, mechanical and electrochemical components of a battery.

Using all of the data being collected from the batteries, Amazon will optimise the level of charge and the storage temperatures of the batteries based on fleet demand, battery degradation, current state of charge, the state of the fleet of vehicles, and other business considerations.

What’s most interesting about this filing is not necessarily the details, but more the fact that Amazon are investing resources into the logistics of being able to deploy large fleets of aerial vehicles for deliveries. Although Amazon just announced layoffs in the drone team last week, it’s clear that the dream for drone deliveries is still very much alive – for better or worse.

2. Spotify – plagiarism risk detector

Spotify is working on detecting music plagiarism.

As a quick background, there are 3 commonly explored forms of plagiarism:

Sampling Plagiarism: when you re-use recorded sounds from one song and use it in another, including if that sound is manipulated in pitch or tempo

Rhythm Plagiarism: a copying of the rhythm, even if there’s a manipulation such as time stretching or pitch shifting

Melody Plagiarism: the copying of a melody from another piece of work, including when a melody is transposed to another key or changed tempo

While there is software that can detect music plagiarism, Spotify’s innovation is to provide a real-time plagiarism detector that can be used during the music composition process.

For each composition, the plagiarism detector will look at potential risks of plagiarism across a number of elements, such as: chord sequences, subsequences, melodic fragments, rhythm, harmony and more. The software will then provide some annotations on whether there are any aspects of plagiarism, and where in the database the plagiarism can be found.

While the filing mostly focuses around using ‘lead sheets’ for detecting plagiarism, Spotify mention that they could convert every song in their database into a lead sheet and incorporate the plagiarism detector directly into their platform.

Why is this interesting?

On the one hand, this could be a useful tool for artists, songwriters and music-labels to avoid potential legal issues. Spotify’s huge database of music and audio fingerprinting technology could alert artists to potential plagiarism, before they release a song. This pre-emptive action could also make things easier for Spotify when it comes to dealing with lawyers wanting to remove content from the platform on the grounds of plagiarism.

On the other hand, I wonder if this technology will lead to a surge in plagiarism lawsuits and end up hurting small, independent artists who are more likely to use uncleared samples (intentionally or not).

Technology can have unintentional consequences and I’m curious to see if the likes of Spotify, which is an oligopoly in the music streaming market, consider the second and third-order effects of features on the wider music ecosystem.

3. Disney – robot actors

Disney are working on robot actors that can participate in live performances, interacting with people in a life-like fashion. They are designed to be untethered and free-roaming, self-balancing and highly dexterous.

In the filing, Disney describe these robot actors as a ‘hardware platform’ that will continuously evolve as AI improves.

The main use-case for these robots is in providing entertainment experiences in venues.

Currently, lots of the characters from the Disney universe don’t necessarily translate well to consumed actors – for instance, consider CGI-based or animated characters from the Disney universe. Sometimes these characters are too small, too uniquely proportioned, or too delicately, detailed for a human to imitate them well. In these instances, the illusion of reality for these characters is broken.

With technology improving in all areas of life, Disney want their characters to be life-like, whether it’s in a movie space, game space, virtual space, AR space or physical space. In essence, Disney want to unify the illusion of life-likeness and ‘reality’ of characters, irrespective of the interaction space. This robot is the attempt at closing the reality-gap in the physical space.

At present, the real-world experience of these animated characters is usually confined to either a screen, or fixed animatronic characters that people quickly ‘drive-by’.

Disney’s view of the future is one where AI robot characters can interact with visitors with in-character improvisations. These robots will share physical and emotional characteristics with their underlying actors. They will act in a way to give the illusion of life and individuality.

Disney are also envisioning a way for visitors to have ‘VR-time’ with the robots that is unconstrained by physics – e.g. during a battle. Once the VR goggles are off, the robot will sync behaviourally to ensure that the experience between real-world and virtual-world is seemingly unbroken.

Disney’s filings are always amazing to read because it provides insight into how deeply they’re thinking about creating a thread of magic that runs through all of the worlds they live in – movies, gaming, VR / AR, physical spaces.

Disney always seem to be be working at making a future that is at least more magical than the present – and we all need more of that.