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Amazon’s Grand Challenge is a secret lab working on cancer research

Amazon’s Grand Challenge is a secret lab working on cancer research


The lab is also known internally as 1492 and Amazon X

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon has spun up a secret lab within its Seattle headquarters called Grand Challenge that the company has set to work on ideas as bold as curing cancer, according to a new report from CNBC. Grand Challenge is run by former Google employee and Google Glass creator Babak Parviz, and it’s designed much like the original Google X moonshots lab, now a subsidiary of Alphabet and known simply as X.

Parviz and his team were part of a larger organization at Google that worked on wearable computing as well as the self-driving car unit now known as Waymo and the artificial intelligence division that became Google Brain. Amazon has its sights set on similarly bold technologies. According to the report, Grand Challenge is also known internally as 1492 and Amazon X, signifying that the group is focused on radical ideas that could revolutionize industries. Since its creation in 2014, it has added more than 50 people, CNBC reports.

Right now, the division is primarily focused on cancer research and technologies related to medical records. Amazon is reportedly working with Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Grand Challenge is also collaborating with the Amazon Web Services team, the company’s cloud computing division and the division under which Grand Challenge is located operationally, on using artificial intelligence to organize, parse, and check unstructured medical record data for errors.

Beyond the health care realm, Grand Challenge is also looking at last-mile delivery, CNBC reports. One such example is Amazon’s recent announcement of a collaboration with GM and Volvo to deliver packages to the trunk of a customer’s car. We don’t know if Amazon’s Prime Air drone delivery project is also operating under Grand Challenge or collaborating with the division or whether Prime Air remains its own independent project. According to CNBC, Amazon has hired employees for Grand Challenge internally through a company contest called “Think Big,” held annually and designed to encourage employees to think of unconventional approaches to solving complex problems.