Amazon today unveiled a cooler-sized package delivery robot named Scout that it is testing in the Seattle area.
Scout is autonomous and travels down the sidewalk at a walking pace. Amazon is starting with six delivery bots in an unspecified neighborhood in Snohomish County, and they will be accompanied by an Amazon employee at the outset.
A video from Amazon shows the mini six-wheeled robot with blue Prime branding rolling slowly down an even sidewalk on a sunny day. Lights on the side of the robot flash when it crosses a street.
Scout pulls up to a house, stops in the middle of the sidewalk and a woman comes out to retrieve a package. Amazon didn’t show in the video or its blog post how the person knows the robot has arrived — there’s probably a phone notification — or what happens if no one is home.
Amazon didn’t say which neighborhood it is testing Scout in, and the company didn’t immediately respond to a question about that. Just minutes after the announcement the internet began looking for clues in the video.
I’m watching the video for the Amazon Scout delivery dingus and all I can think is “hey that’s the Universal Studios backlot tour neighborhood”. I might be a bit too much of a theme park nerd https://t.co/9zFgdkIajh pic.twitter.com/ILW3OLCAMT
— Cabel (@cabel) January 23, 2019
Scout was developed at Amazon’s research and development lab in its hometown of Seattle. The device is designed to follow a predetermined route, but the company says it can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.
The company didn’t reveal much detail about how far it can go, how exactly it will be deployed and how well it can stand up to harsh weather conditions and other obstacles.
Amazon said it partnered with Snohomish County on the Scout project, and in a blog post quoted its county executive Dave Somers talking about the alliance. “From the latest Amazon innovation to cutting edge technology, Snohomish County is a great place for entrepreneurial creativity.”
Delivery robots have caught on in recent years with numerous startups leaning on the technology for quick, nearby deliveries, and Amazon’s entrance into the arena is a huge step forward. Perhaps the best known player is Starship Technologies, an Estonia-based company started by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis.
Amazon’s robots look a lot like Starship’s, which are being deployed for a number of uses. The latest example is a fleet of 25 robots that delivery food on demand from dining halls to students at George Mason University.
The delivery robots are Amazon’s latest attempt to solve the riddle of speeding up the last mile of delivery. The dramatic unveiling of drone delivery caught the public eye, but regulations in the U.S. have held back that plan. Starship helped pave the way for Amazon’s new program by working with several states to pass laws allowing autonomous delivery robots.