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Amazon halts work on ‘Scout’ delivery-bot that delivered parcels no faster than humans

Meanwhile in China, Alibaba runs 500 delivery-bots and they’ve delivered 10 million items to Easy Street

E-commerce behemoth has stopped work on its “Scout” parcel delivery robots.

“During our limited field test for Scout, we worked to create a unique delivery experience, but learned through feedback that there were aspects of the program that weren’t meeting customers’ needs,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “As a result, we are ending our field tests and reorienting the program. We are working with employees during this transition, matching them to open roles that best fit their experience and skills.”

Amazon launched Scout in 2019 without explaining why the devices are necessary other than its desire to offer “more sustainability and convenience to customer deliveries.”

Scout was described as “the size of a small cooler” and capable of moving at “walking pace”. At the time, Amazon also emphasised that “the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians and anything else in their path.”

Amazon’s note didn't say exactly what went wrong with the bots, but The Register notes that home delivery at walking pace is a niche already filled by the postal service, and that the USA is hardly short of logistics outfits willing to move parcels in larger and faster vehicles.

Amazon was reportedly still active in holding meet-and-greet events in local communities where it was trying to get Scout to work a month ago. Job adverts seeking software engineers for the robot were posted as recently as September, too. Sean Scott, vice president of Amazon Scout leading the project left the company last year.

Last week, the internet giant axed Amazon Glow, a video call device aimed at children, reportedly due to sluggish sales. Amazon Care, its virtual telehealth service for corporate customers in Los Angeles, Washington, and Dallas is to shut down by the end of 2022 following its purchase of One Medical, an internal email reported by Geekwire revealed.

The $3.9 billion all-cash deal for the US chain of healthcare clinics is being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission.

The decision to halt work on Scout stands in marked contrast to Amazon’s Chinese analogue Alibaba, which in June 2022 pointed out that its own fleet of 500 delivery-bots had made ten million deliveries.

But those numbers don’t represent a “Wow, China is overtaking the rest of the technology world” moment because Alibaba’s bots rolled around University campuses, environments rather easier to navigate and more tightly packed with drop-off destinations than the Seattle suburbs where Amazon tested Scout.

Alibaba’s bots are also larger than Scout, so can carry more packages.

The Chinese company’s interest in bots is fueled by an ageing workforce that makes delivery drivers hard to recruit and retain, plus a desire to improve delivery productivity.

Amazon appears never to have articulated an economic rationale for exploring Scout’s potential. ®

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