Amazon is entering the robot delivery game with an electric hamper on wheels it’s calling the Amazon Scout. The e-commerce giant is the latest company to try its hand at this sort of automated, last-mile delivery solution, following a crop of startups, as well as experiments by larger firms like Domino’s Pizza and PepsiCo.
Details about the Scout are thin on the ground, but the design looks similar to existing robots. In fact, the Scout looks almost identical to devices from Starship Technologies, an Estonian startup that was an early entrant to the field. (In a statement to The Verge after this story was published, a spokesperson for Starship Technologies said “[w]e’re huge believers in autonomous delivery robots. As the company that created this category, it’s great to see others realizing the potential.”)
The Scout has six wheels, is powered by an electric battery, and moves at a walking pace. Just six devices are currently being trialed in a single neighborhood in Snohomish County, Washington, where they will deliver packages “in daylight hours” between Monday and Friday. According to Amazon, the robots will be accompanied on their rounds by human overseers to begin with. This is to ensure that the devices can “safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”
Similar trials are ongoing in cities around the world and in more closed-off locations like college campuses and office complexes. Cheap sensors and advances in machine learning have made navigation for this sort of robot relatively easy to handle. And when the device makes a mistake, the risks are relatively small (unlike with self-driving cars). The Amazon Scout is wheeling down a path that could become very common, very soon.
Update, January 23rd 6:00PM ET: Added comment from Starship Technologies.