Autonomous delivery vehicles were one of the areas of automation that looked the most robust and, well, real. We reported that Uber Eats made a good example of why autonomous delivery bots weren’t as far along as you might think. Now Amazon is shelving its autonomous delivery bot project, Scout.
Amazon has been working on Scout for several years. It’s the size of a cooler and rolls along the sidewalk, delivering packages on the regular Amazon schedule. Just last year Amazon announced that they’d be developing new technology for Scout in Finland. The new developments were intended to fine-tune the safety level of the Scout system.
Amazon is being fairly cagey about the demise of Scout. They said that customer feedback suggested that Scout wasn’t meeting customers’ needs. Bloomberg suggests that it was just another cut as Amazon sales slow down. An early opinion piece from Vancouver got a bit huffy about Amazon’s claim that Scout should be treated like any other pedestrian as its six wheeled chassis took up the whole sidewalk at a walking pace. They may have foreseen the kind of conflict between human and robot needs that has made delivery bots unpopular in some cities. Amazon has tested Scout in quite a few real cities as well as simulated neighborhoods.
400 workers will lose their Scout jobs, but Amazon says that they will be offered other jobs at the company. It is not known how many delivery jobs would have been lost if the Scout project had worked out as planned. In this case, however, the robots provided jobs rather than taking them away. Still, Amazon has decided to cancel their Scout delivery bot program.
This is disappointing news for those of us who were excited about the potential of this technology. We will have to wait and see what other companies do with delivery bots in the future.
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