Amazon introduced its six-wheel delivery robot Scout in January 2019, but was slow to expand its field tests. After launching in a single neighborhood in Snohomish County, Washington, and adding a larger location in Irvine, California last August, Scout is currently being tested in Atlanta, Georgia and Franklin, Tennessee, Amazon announced today.
It is unclear how many robots are on the move and how many customers Scout serves. However, it seems that the bots are still prototypes and are being handled with the care that is appropriate for a company that has built its reputation on fast and reliable delivery.
Amazon states that there is a “small number of Amazon Scout devices” in operation in both Atlanta and Franklin that will deliver “Monday through Friday in daylight”. The devices navigate autonomously, but are always accompanied by a human employee (an "Amazon Scout Ambassador" in the retailer's company jargon).
Amazon's Scout robots navigate autonomously, but are always accompanied by human thinkers.
Delivery robots have developed into a fast-moving arena in the past few years, in which a number of startups use their own devices. Some robots are the size of obstacles, such as Amazon's Scout, while others look more like small cars. With the advent of the corona virus, interest in the technology has increased again as companies look for ways to minimize human contact and demand for home deliveries.
Trials with Scout continued during the pandemic, according to Amazon, to help the company "meet increased customer demand by expanding our transportation network."
Although early trials with delivery robots are promising, it is not yet clear whether the machines can handle the complexity of the real world. Navigating clear sidewalks in suburbs is easy enough, but dealing with all the dangers of a city street is much more difficult. And despite AI's promise to give these robots the intelligence they need to control themselves, companies are still relying on human drivers to operate machines remotely to get around.