Amazon Deploys Autonomous Delivery Vehicles on WA County’s Sidewalks

Xconomy Seattle — 

Amazon may still have a long way to go before realizing its vision of a network of package-carrying drones, which it discussed five years ago on an episode of “60 Minutes.”

But the online retailing and technology giant says it’s begun testing a similar—if a bit less futuristic—concept involving unmanned delivery vehicles rolling around a neighborhood in Washington’s Snohomish County, which is located north of Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) headquarters in Seattle.

Instead of using drones to fly packages to customers’ homes, Amazon would deliver items using small, electric vehicles that travel along the sidewalk. Sean Scott, a vice president in the company’s robotics division, shared new details on the program, called “Amazon Scout,” in a blog post published Wednesday.

Amazon created the black-and-blue Scout vehicles, each of which has six wheels and is the size of a small cooler, in-house at its research and development lab in Seattle, Scott writes.

The company plans to deploy a half dozen of the vehicles in Snohomish County, though Scott did not say the specific area where Amazon is testing its Scout technology.

The vehicles will start by delivering packages on weekdays between sunrise and sunset, Scott says. (A video accompanying his blog post shows a Scout vehicle equipped with blinking lights, indicating Amazon may plan to eventually have the vehicles make deliveries around the clock.)

The vehicles travel at about the same speed as the average pedestrian walks, Scott says, and they can “safely and efficiently” avoid running into people and pets that share the sidewalk. During the testing period, an Amazon employee will tag along with Scout vehicles as they make deliveries, according to the post.

Snohomish County residents don’t have the ability to request delivery via Amazon Scout when placing an order using the company’s website or mobile app, Scott says.

“Customers in Snohomish County order just as they normally would and their Amazon packages will be delivered either by one of our trusted partner carriers or by Amazon Scout,” he says in the post.

In the Amazon Scout video, the customer walks up to the vehicle, which has parked in her front walkway. It then pops open its top lid, allowing the customer to remove the package inside and return to her home.

Scott did not explain in his post whether Amazon Scout vehicles are equipped with lifts or ramps to drop off packages when the customer isn’t home.

Nor did he say whether a vehicle’s cargo compartment is refrigerated, which might make Amazon Scout a good candidate for delivering small food and beverage orders to customers—an area Amazon has been investing in through its Whole Foods acquisition and AmazonFresh grocery delivery service.