Amazon reportedly formed a team of about a dozen employees that is working on figuring out how Amazon can leverage driverless vehicle technology and the role Amazon can play as that technology continues to evolve, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Amazon is not leaning toward developing its own autonomous vehicles, according to the report. The story said the team’s work remains at a very early phase after just starting last year, but not many other details were reported. Amazon declined to comment for the WSJ report.
The report comes one week after Amazon hosted an event called “Radical Transportation Salon,” in which it is said to have discussed many aspects of the future of transportation, including driverless vehicles, with representatives from other companies.
Amazon has its fingerprints over so many different innovations in the supply chain, fulfillment and logistics. Hearing the company has a team of employees mulling over driverless vehicle scenarios shouldn't surprise anyone at this point. Since Amazon has been busy testing delivery drones — one form of driverless vehicles — one could have easily assumed Amazon was busy behind the scenes discussing and exploring other driverless vehicles and how they might be used in Amazon's operations.
There are multiple aspects of Amazon's business where driverless vehicles make sense. Driverless industrial vehicles like forklifts could be used in the supply chain and fulfillment, while driverless delivery trucks and drones could be used in the last mile.
Amazon has been invested in setting up its own logistics and delivery infrastructure in recent years, renting planes and buying trucks to make its own deliveries, and is now getting closer to using drones as well. While it may not seem too much of a stretch to imagine Amazon developing its own fleet of driverless vehicles, the WSJ report suggest that's not in the cards. The company may be fine leaving driverless technology development to other players that already have a stake in the business.
One big player in driverless vehicles is Ford Motor Co., which has talked up the potential future use of driverless vehicles in package delivery applications that would impact the retail space. Ford also has partnered with Amazon to include Alexa virtual assistant technology in some of its car models. That partnership itself didn't have anything to do with driverless vehicles, but could still serve as the starting point for discussions between the two companies about driverless vehicles.
Amazon has developed most of its ground-breaking innovations in-house and has a tendency to go it alone because it can afford to. But while there are a lot of different ways this could still play out, it seems unlikely that Amazon would start to make its own driverless delivery trucks. Maybe Alexa could even end up being involved somehow. We sense an increasingly popular question being posed to the virtual assistant: "Alexa, do you know how to drive?"