The days when tiny automated robots travel to our homes and deliver the items we purchase online are just about here.
Last March in Silver Firs, a suburb north of Seattle, Washington, an Amazon-labeled robot roamed the streets under staff supervision. The six-wheeled knee-high package delivery prototype, dubbed “Scout,” brought real orders to customers located throughout the area.
At the same time, Scout also helped Amazon gather information on the neighborhood alongside additional laser scans, image capturing, and aircraft monitoring.
With their cumulative data, the company successfully recreated a simulated version of Silver Firs, and are now using it to train their delivery bots of the future.
Amazon’s Growing Robotic Fleet
Scout isn’t the only Amazon delivery robot out there pioneering the company’s automated delivery technology. Aside from the company’s activity in Silver Firs, they have at least six other delivery robots operating across the surrounding area of Snohomish County.
While Amazon received country approval to launch additional data gathering robots, they have not revealed their exact areas of operation. However, a few months after Scout began testing, the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, signed a bill to regulate the activity of delivery robots—addressing their travel speed, maximum carrying capacity, and the traffic laws they must abide by.
Regardless of stricter legal guidelines, Amazon’s robots are being received with excitement in the town, and more are on the way.
Simulated Training for Tomorrow’s Streets
Before these little robots go live everywhere, they need to prove they’re adaptable to the challenge of navigating human streets.
Amazon’s robots must steer around obstacles, slow down for people and animals, stop when necessary, and do much more. But training these machines for the countless scenarios they are liable to encounter requires mountains of good data.
With the data collected by early delivery robots like Scout, in due time future models will come off the production line knowing exactly how to navigate the neighborhoods they’re intended to traverse. As Amazon executive Sean Scott explained in a recent interview, “By the time Scout rolls into a new town for the first time, its control system will have likely ‘seen’ every seam in the pavement thousands of times before.”
Automated Delivery Tech of the Future
When you look at the other companies using automated delivery robots, Amazon’s actually been slower in boarding the technological bandwagon.
Domino’s started using their pizza delivery robots in 2017, along with other robot delivery services operating throughout major cities. Not quite automated, though similar in spirit, UC Berkeley students have also had access to Kiwi—a robot delivery service manned remotely over the internet by controllers in Colombia.
But overall, a dependable and profitable version of an automated delivery robot that needs no human attendance doesn’t exist yet. As companies like Amazon continue to develop and refine the technology further, however, automated deliveries will become a normal part of our daily lives before we know it.