Amazon’s Delivery Bot Seems Lightyears Behind Others We’ve Seen
Last week, we saw a video from Amazon that showed off the ecommerce retailer’s own branded delivery robot. With an ongoing mission to perfect (and control) the coveted last-mile delivery segment, it’s not surprising to see that Amazon is working on something in the autonomous-delivery bot space with this six-wheeled delivery device that they’re affectionately referring to as Scout. But what is surprising, in watching the video and reading a little bit more about the service, is to see just how far behind Amazon is with their delivery tech than other bots we’ve seen.
To it’s credit, Amazon did just launch six of these Scout delivery robots in a suburban Seattle neighborhood. There, the test program involves human employees that follow the bots around while they make deliveries to ensure that they (and their surroundings) remain safe and that the bots do their jobs efficiently. According to Amazon, the bots will deliver Amazon packages Monday through Friday during daylight hours, and they’ll autonomously follow their delivery route.
But it’s the design of the bots themselves that really open things up to a number of questions around just how efficient Scout will be as a delivery robot.
Scout appears to be nothing more than a rolling luggage. That presents a number of problems from a basic delivery standpoint. For starters, it would make it nearly impossible for the bot to get up stairs close to the front door where Amazon packages are often left. And then there’s the actual dropping the package off. At CES 2019, we saw a delivery demo where an autonomous bot was able to step out of a van, walk up steps, and literally drop a package off before walking back down the steps and returning to the van. That would seem to be delivery efficiency at its finest.
Scout, on the other hand, would have trouble simply getting to the front door. In the video that Amazon has accompanying its Scout announcement, the bot rolls up in front of a home, remains down by the curb, and pops its lid open. From there, the waiting customer removes their package and walks back into their home while Scout rolls on to its next destination. So, from what we can tell—Scout deliveries will require you to be home and available in order to receive your package “autonomously.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t one of the most convenient aspects of Amazon deliveries the fact that you don’t necessarily have to be home in order to receive your item? And if Scout is only going to be a during-the-day delivery bot, wouldn’t that mean he’s likely to be out doing his job while we’re likely away from home doing the same? I mean, I could see the benefits of deploying something like this into an apartment building where a mail clerk could receive the delivery and then distribute to the appropriate tenant.
Other companies have expressed similar interest in getting into this autonomous delivery space, including names like Domino’s and Pepsi. And George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia (just a stone’s throw from Washington, DC) even recently announced plans to deploy an autonomous bot fleet to deliver food and drinks to students. But for those instances it makes more sense to have bots that look like Scout because those are on-demand services, delivering food to someone or some family who wants it at that particular moment, wherever they are.
Of course, this is just the early stages of Amazon’s foray into the delivery bot game, so it’s easy to imagine that Scout will or should evolve over time. But for a company that usually develops solutions that answer consumers’ questions, Scout does almost the exact opposite.