TECHNOLOGY

What has six wheels and makes Amazon deliveries – in California?

BY Dan Berthiaume

Amazon is taking its Scout autonomous delivery device from the Seattle area to a sunnier climate.

Since January, Amazon has been piloting Scout, a proprietary, fully-electric delivery system, in a neighborhood in Snohomish County, Washington. Scout devices are described by Amazon as being the size of a “small cooler” and traveling on sidewalks at a “walking pace.”

Following thousands of successful deliveries, including safe, autonomous navigation of common residential obstacles such as skateboards and trashcans, Scout is making deliveries in Irvine, California as of Aug. 6. Although Irvine is located in generally tranquil Southern California, in a corporate blog post Amazon also noted that Scout weathered infrequent sun, regular rain showers, and a major snowstorm in the Seattle area.

As Amazon did with its initial pilot in Snohomish County, it will launch the Irvine test with small number of Amazon Scout devices, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours. Customers in the Irvine area will order as they normally would and their Amazon packages will be delivered either by regular carrier or by Amazon Scout. The same delivery options are available via Scout including same-day, one-day and two-day shipping for Prime members. The devices will autonomously follow their delivery route, and initially be accompanied by a human employee.

Amazon has created dedicated hardware and software labs for Scout development in Seattle. The labs enable engineers, scientists, and operations staff to build and test the devices. They also allow Amazon to rapidly prototype hardware components and write new code, with real-time validation.

“We’re still in field test mode and our expansion to the Irvine area is just another in the many steps forward for this new delivery system,” Sean Scott, VP of Amazon Scout, said in the blog post. “The future is right around the corner, and we couldn’t be more excited.”

Amazon Scout is arguably the most high-profile autonomous delivery robot pilot to date, but hardly the only one. In July, Postmates deployed an autonomous delivery device called Serve in Los Angeles.
And in February, FedEx began testing a robotic device called the FedEx SameDayBot with retailers including Walmart and Target.

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