The future is now: Starting this week, Amazon (AMZN) is testing autonomous package delivery with adorable little robot vehicles in a northern Seattle suburb.
Six of the Amazon Scouts, the company announced yesterday, are now delivering packages in Snohomish County in a trial run that complements its existing delivery options. The company is hiring for 25 positions on the Scout project.
The six-wheeled vehicles are fully electric and will move at “walking pace,” for the time being only during daylight hours on weekdays while accompanied by Amazon employees for safety’s sake.
It’s worth noting that last year the company was working on a clothing recommendation service called Scout. These delivery robots will not be able to dress you, as far as we know.
The Verge pointed out that the vehicles look almost identical to those of an Estonian startup. Starship Technologies has tested its autonomous delivery robots in a number of US cities, just this week deploying 25 vehicles to deliver food on the campus of George Mason University in partnership with Sodexho.
But considering the drone delivery Prime Air program never got off the ground, Amazon Scout already seems like a more sensible solution to the last-mile problem: the time-intensive activity of getting packages from distribution centers to homes.
Wired points out some particular problems, though: “A delivery robot can’t open gates without hands, and it can’t climb steps to get right to your door. And if the robot requires the customer to enter a PIN to get the package out, how can the robot leave the package if you’re not home?” And compared to the orderly structure of roads, sidewalks are pure chaos, with people, pets and objects sharing the space.
Whether autonomous delivery vehicles are allowed to share the sidewalks varies by state and by city too; San Francisco has severely restricted them since 2017. Amazon’s road test in Seattle may determine whether the delivery method finally arrives.