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Big Tech layoffs hit Amazon’s drones, Halo developers, and Google’s incubator

Big Tech layoffs hit Amazon’s drones, Halo developers, and Google’s incubator

Google’s decision to let go of 12,000 employees was only just announced on Friday, but it extended the recent trend of the “Big Tech” companies cutting jobs in previously unheard-of numbers, and now we’ve seen more reports about where those cuts happened.

The Information reports that at Google, layoffs spread through nearly every group, including projects like Chrome, Search, Android, and Google Cloud. Its sources said they affected people who’d previously received “high performance reviews” and some managers making anywhere from $500K to $1 million.

One area of the search and advertising giant that was “relatively unaffected,” however, was the Google Brain division run by Jeff Dean, the senior vice president of research and artificial intelligence. That’s the team developing the machine learning tech Google is already using in many areas. According to the New York Times, its work will also be applied to a number of products we’ll reportedly see at its I/O event in May, including tools to generate images, a YouTube green screen feature, and at some point this year, a chatbot version of its search engine.

Google confirmed to Bloomberg that it decided “to wind down the majority of the Area 120 team.” That incubator, named for Google’s famed but long-dormant policy of allowing employees 20 percent of their time to chase side projects, had already seen large cuts affecting half of its projects late last year. The company said three projects will be folded into Google while the rest appear to be gone.

At Microsoft, where 10,000 people are being laid off, Polygon points out reports of the effects on several game development studios and the responses from some former employees. According to Bloomberg, there were cuts at Starfield developer Bethesda, and reporter Jason Schreier said in a tweet that its Halo studio 343 Industries was reportedly “hit hard.” At the same time, Kotaku noted that The Coalition, which works on the Gears of War games, was also affected.

Other cuts hit Microsoft’s mixed-reality teams. A report from Bloomberg indicates that layoffs affected some of the employees working on its HoloLens headset, a potential side effect of Congress denying the US Army’s request to purchase up to 6,900 headsets based on the HoloLens platform. Microsoft’s also shuttering the AltspaceVR virtual reality-based social platform it acquired in 2017, and employees on Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Toolkit team say they’ve all been laid off.

Amazon confirmed to us months ago that its layoffs included jobs in the devices and services division. Then, in early January, hardware chief Dave Limp said on CNBC’s TechCheck that the cuts affected nearly 2,000 people in his division, which is home to products like Alexa and its Echo smart home devices. Projects confirmed dropped included its video-calling device for kids and telehealth service.

This week, CNBC reports the layoffs also include a “significant number” of employees working on the Prime Air drone delivery project at multiple sites, including its headquarters, and, according to a since-deleted LinkedIn post, as much as half the team at its Pendleton, Oregon test site. Originally announced by Jeff Bezos in 2013, the program is seeing those cuts just as it starts to roll out testing in a few cities and prepares to launch the next-generation MK30 drone that will follow up the earlier MK27-2 unit shown above.

Amazon declined to say to CNBC how many people in the division had been laid off.

Update, 12:30PM ET: Updated to note the shutdown of AltspaceVR, as well as other layoffs in Microsoft’s mixed-reality division.


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