Amazon tests small autonomous delivery vehicle
UPDATE: January 27, 2019: An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to Retail Dive via email that the devices were created by Amazon.
Amazon announced it is testing a new delivery robot — or what the company in a blog post describes as a "fully-electric delivery system" — called "Amazon Scout" in a neighborhood in Snohomish County, Washington.
The company said six Amazon Scout devices have begun delivering packages during daylight hours on weekdays to consumers who have placed orders with Amazon. While the Scout devices autonomously follow a specified delivery route, they initially are being accompanied by Amazon employees, according to the blog post.
The six-wheeled Scout robot, about the size of a small cooler that moves along at the pace of a typical pedestrian, was developed at Amazon's research and development lab in Seattle, the company said.
The Amazon Scout device bears some similarity to Starship Technologies' six-wheeled delivery robot that helped win the company Startup of the Year honors from Retail Dive in 2016. Since then, Starship announced a new CEO and launched a commercial delivery service focused around offices and university campuses.
While Amazon said Scout came out of its own Seattle R&D lab, there could be more to the story. The similarity between the companies' robotic vehicles begs the question of whether Amazon may have partnered with Starship for Scout's development or may be using some kind of privately-branded version of the Starship vehicle.
Regardless, the Scout trial shows that, in addition to its adoption of robotics in its supply chain, Amazon is continuing to invest in and test the technology in all of its forms. It also shows that, even as Amazon's ambition to operate delivery drones appeared to be in a holding pattern in recent years amid regulatory delays, the e-commerce giant continues to explore options for how to improve last-mile delivery capabilities. Testing for Scout is limited for now, focusing on a single neighborhood in a single market, so this doesn't seem like a concept that Amazon is ready to pursue aggressively quite yet.
Curiously, the little rolling robot isn't the first Amazon offering to use the name Scout. Last year, the same name was used for the company's gamified furniture shopping platform, although that platform apparently is no longer called Scout. "Customers can still access the same great feature that allows them to shop and browse millions of items and quickly refine the selection based solely on visual attributes and their preferences," an Amazon spokesperson told Retail Dive in an email. "Customers can access the visual discovery feature at amazon.com/discover."