There’s a new robot in town – providing your town (or city) happens to be Atlanta or Franklin, Tennessee. The online retail giant is now using its Scout electric drone delivery system to deliver packages to select customers in both those locations as Amazon expands its incremental rollout of the system.

Scout is about the size of a small cooler. It plots its course autonomously, moves at about the same speed people walk at, and can navigate around things that get in its way. In fact, Amazon says these devices have successfully detected and avoided objects including discarded Christmas trees, old refrigerators – and even a surfboard. Check out the image below – you can see the ring of sensors just below where the blue ends.

The Scout’s purpose is to deliver small packages. And, according to an Amazon blog post, those deliveries are even more important during COVID-19 – with the massive shift to online purchasing.

Scouting a location in Atlanta

There are now four US Scout locations

Amazon had already been testing the Scout in two other places: Irvine, California and Snohomish County, Washington. These latest additions will supplement Amazon’s traditional delivery methods and are another tiny step on the path towards the company’s 2040 net zero carbon goal. Scout is rolling as of now (July 21) within these parameters:

We are starting with a small number of Amazon Scout devices in each city, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours. Customers in both areas will order just as they normally would and their Amazon packages will be delivered either by one of our trusted carrier partners or by Amazon Scout. The same delivery options are available, including fast, FREE Same-Day, One-Day, and Two-Day shipping for Prime members. The devices will autonomously follow their delivery route, and initially be accompanied by an Amazon Scout Ambassador.

Amazon Blog

The company says testing in the south will expose Scout to a different climate, providing useful data and insights before a more extensive rollout. The company also says it plans to partner up with schools in both locations, “to support STEM and robotics activities, helping to build the next generation of innovators in both cities.”

And what does it look like in action? Probably much like you’d expect:

Ground vs air

Scout is a drone, of course, navigating its way autonomously. It’s bristling with sensors that keep a close eye on the environment around it. But this isn’t Amazon’s first foray into the drone delivery world. Remember Amazon Prime Air? Of course you do – it was announced several years ago.

Amazon makes its first Prime Air drone delivery back in 2016

Not surprisingly, it’s a little easier to roll out a ground-based autonomous system. Flying drones over cities is complicated – and not without controversy. Alphabet’s WING project ruffled some community feathers due to noise when a pilot project was launched in Australia. Last year, it launched a pilot project in Christiansburg, Virginia:

Alphabet’s Wing project delivers small consumer goods by drone

The future is coming quickly

It seems a given that delivery drones – whether on the ground or in the air – will be part of our collective future. Airborne drones will certainly speed delivery over current methods, and will hopefully do so without disturbing the neighborhood. You can bet there are engineers at Wing examining ways to reduce the noise signature of its Wing aircraft. (Do you really need 14 propellors? Maybe you do, but it sure seems like a lot.)

Coming eventually to airspace near you: Drone delivery

For massive companies like Amazon and Alphabet, the approach makes economic sense. It will ultimately be less expensive to deliver using these methods – and it’s the bottom line that counts.

What do you think? Would you welcome delivery by drone? Would you prefer by ground or air? Let us know in the comments!

Photos: Amazon and Wing

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