Robots have already become an integral part of Amazon’s warehouse operations, but it’s looking at several ways to automate delivery, too. We’ve all heard about Prime Air, the drone delivery program currently hamstrung by US restrictions on commercial drones. However, the company just rolled out a new ground-based robotic delivery service in one community north of Seattle. It’s called Amazon Scout.
Amazon says it designed the Scout delivery robot in its Seattle-based research and development lab. Scout is a six-wheeled autonomous robot about the size of a small cooler. The front “visor” portion houses an array of sensors that help Scout navigate sidewalks. It trundles along at a walking pace, able to detect and avoid obstacles like people, pets, and anything else that appears in the way. Amazon didn’t talk about the robot’s sensor package in detail, though.
In the demo video, the Scout robot rolls up to a house, but it remains on the sidewalk. Since it’s a wheeled robot, it can’t climb up on your front porch to drop off a package. In fact, it can’t drop off the box at all. Someone has to come out and meet the robot, which opens its top cover to reveal the cargo.
Amazon is starting with just six Scout robots to deliver packages in an unnamed Snohomish County neighborhood that appears to have very nice sidewalks. Customers in the Scout service area will order items from Amazon normally, but not all of them will arrive aboard a robot. Human drivers will still make the bulk of deliveries, but that might not be the case forever.
Amazon is not the only company looking at robot delivery; a number of startups are experimenting with similar devices, but they don’t have the resources of Amazon. You’d need a lot of small robots to replace trucks that can carry a few hundred packages at a time, but it’s possible Amazon robots like Scout could eventually take over the last mile logistics currently handled by firms like FedEx and Amazon’s own delivery drivers.
The Scout robots will only operate Monday through Friday during daylight hours. While nothing is stopping Amazon from designing a robot that can work late into the night, Scout is still an experimental program. It won’t even let the robots deliver packages on their own. Amazon employees will chaperone the machines as they make their rounds, at least for now.
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