Amazon, George Mason roll out robot delivery devices

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Amazon has rolled out six autonomous delivery robots for field testing in Snohomish County, Washington, earlier this week.

The device, named “Scout,” is Amazon’s latest attempt to solve the problem of “last-mile” logistics — typically an expensive and labor-intensive part of the shipping process. The cooler-sized robot rolls along sidewalks at a walking pace to deliver packages at people’s front doors.

“The devices will autonomously follow their delivery route but will initially be accompanied by an Amazon employee,” Amazon said in a statement. “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

Once the device reaches its destination, the top hatch opens, allowing customers to retrieve their packages. Of course, this means that the person placing the order must be there when Scout arrives.

More details about the device, including whether Amazon has plans to expand the service nationwide, have not been released.

Another company, Starship Technologies, introduced its own fleet of delivery robots the day before Amazon’s announcement. George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The robots are delivering pizza, coffee, and groceries to students and faculty at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Moving up to four miles an hour, Starship’s robots can haul up to 20 pounds of food. Students can expect to receive their orders within 30 minutes, according to CBS News. An app allows customers to track their orders.

Like Amazon Scout’s customers, the George Mason students will have to meet the delivery device at the door.

Not all is running smoothly in the robot delivery industry, however.

Marble, a robot delivery startup in San Francisco, has been facing challenges with its service. Sharing space on sidewalks with pedestrians has been a problem, leading to city legislators banning the robots on most city sidewalks.

Renia Ehrenfeucht, a University of New Mexico professor and co-author of Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation over Public Space, said cities will have to adjust their street and sidewalk designs if robotic delivery devices catch on.

“If there really were hundreds of little robots,” Ehrenfeucht told The Guardian, “[sidewalks] would stop functioning as sidewalks and start functioning more as bike lanes. They would stop being spaces that are available for playing games or sitting down.”

Cyclists already have to navigate around electric scooters in “bike” lanes. Maybe delivery bots are next.

Image courtesy of Amazon.

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