© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The logo of Amazon is seen at the company logistics center in Lauwin-Planque, northern France, February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
By Greg Bensinger
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Some workers within Amazon’s once-storied hardware division – responsible for popular devices like the Kindle reader and Echo voice-assistant – say morale within the division has suffered amid staff cutbacks and a pipeline of devices in development that they fear are unlikely to prove hits.
The division, known as Lab126, was a focus for Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos, who portrayed it as an engine for future projects, but more recently it has been buffeted by mass layoffs and key executive departures, including leader Dave Limp, a 13-year veteran who has announced plans to step down later this year.
Reuters interviewed more than 15 current and former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to their employment terms, who described a hodgepodge of new devices in development, many of them aimed at encouraging customers to use the once ground-breaking Alexa voice service that now faces a stiff challenge in the age of generative AI and ChatGPT.
The company – the world’s biggest online retailer – is holding a devices and services launch event on September 20 where it is expected to feature refreshed versions of some existing products like the Fire tablet, Fire TV stick and Kindle Scribe e-reader, among other announcements. Reuters was unable to determine Amazon’s full plans for the announcement.
The news agency was able to identify five different new devices under development. These include a carbon monoxide detector and a household energy consumption monitor – both with Alexa built into them – as well as a home projector to make any surface a screen. Some of the sources mentioned other projects, the full details of which could not be confirmed.
Amazon hopes consumers will install Alexa-enabled devices in more rooms of their homes and become accustomed to using the system throughout the day, the sources said.
The company has also worked on an Alexa-enabled digital measuring device (for instance, for mapping out the dimensions of one’s home) and a virus-testing device initially intended to detect Covid, the people said.
Amazon is secretive about its internal projects at Lab126, which has long been crucial to its drive to position itself as a tech innovator. Not all of them will be produced commercially,…