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Bloomberg reports that Amazon is testing an autonomous delivery robot, called ‘Amazon Scout,’ in the Seattle suburbs.

The Scout is said to be the size of a cooler and able to to navigate around people and pets; it will make deliveries during daylight hours, Monday through Friday. There will be six Scouts deployed in the test.

Perhaps more important than the specific test itself is the fact that this is just the company’s “latest experiment to automate the last-mile of delivery that’s a labor-intensive and costly component of buying products online,” as well as just one of a series of tests of delivery robots taking place around the country by different companies.

Amazon is no stranger to robotics, the story notes, pointing out that it has used them “to move inventory in its vast network of warehouses and has been working on delivery by autonomous drone for years.”
KC's View:
In the broader sense, this has to be seen as Amazon’s latest foray into the delivery world, testing new technologies that could help it compete more effectively with the likes of the US Postal Service (USPS), FedEX, and United Parcel Service (UPS).

It so happens that the Wall Street Journal this morning has a story about how, as Amazon develops its own competitive delivery service, it is “targeting a common complaint: fuel surcharges and extra fees that drive up the cost of home deliveries … To woo shippers, the retailer is promising to forgo many fees that the traditional carriers use to pad their revenue, such as extra charges to deliver packages to homes, during the peak holiday season or on weekends.”

The story notes that “Amazon recently expanded its nascent home-delivery service, called Amazon Shipping, beyond test markets in London and Los Angeles. The online retailer is offering to pick up shipments from merchants’ warehouses and deliver them directly to shoppers. The end-to-end service is part of Amazon’s quest to handle more of the millions of items sold through its site.”

This is all of a piece - Amazon testing the limits of what it can and should do as part of its ecosystem-centric approach to business.

I’m sure there are a bunch of folks out there who will shake their heads and think that Amazon is biting off more than it can legitimately chew. But this is a company that generally tends to live up to its ambitions, and when you think of some of the other things that founder/CEO Jeff Bezos is involved with, using robots to deliver packages or mail doesn’t even seem so tough.

CNBC reported yesterday on how Bezos’ space exploration venture, Blue Origin, recently completed its 10th flight, and is close to sending astronauts into space. Bezos, from all reports, doesn’t just see this as a business … he sees the poetry and majesty of venturing into the final frontier, of the importance to the human spirit and maybe even the survival of the species of slipping “the surly bonds of Earth” and dancing in the skies “on laughter-silvered wings.”

When you think that way, so much of the other stuff - you know, the Earth-bound stuff that actually pays the bills - must seem relatively easy.