Bloomberg first reported that the company has halted machine testing and that the Scout team, which has around 400 employees worldwide, is being disbanded.
However, Alisa Carroll, an Amazon spokesperson, told The Verge that the company is “not abandoning the Scout program entirely”: “We are reducing the program while maintaining a Scout team.”
“We worked to create a unique delivery experience during our Scout limited field test, but we learned through feedback that there were aspects of the program that weren’t meeting customers’ needs, “As a result, we’re wrapping up our field tests and refocusing the program.”
During this transition, we are working with employees to match them to open roles that best match their experience and skills.”
Scout was introduced in 2019 and has since been tested in several states. The machine joins an increasing number of semi-autonomous delivery robots, ranging from cooler-sized wheeled robots like Scout and industry leader Starship Technologies to “pods” the size of small cars like those tested by Uber Eats and autonomous driving startup Nuro, and currently deployed in China by Amazon’s e-commerce rival Alibaba.
In most cases, the robots will handle “last mile” deliveries, meaning they will transport packages from local distribution centers to customers’ front doors. However, as Amazon’s Scout failure suggests, the economics of this technology are not certain.
Although the robots are nominally autonomous, they frequently require remote supervision, particularly when they encounter unexpected situations. They’re also slow, moving at a walking pace, giving them little advantage over traditional couriers.
According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s decision to discontinue Scout testing is part of a company-wide effort to reduce more speculative investments as growth in its core retail sector slows.
Amazon Glow, an interactive, family-friendly video device, was recently discontinued, and the company is winding down its telehealth service, Amazon Care, by the end of the year.
It will be interesting to see if Amazon Prime Air, its drone delivery service, survives this purge.
Although the project was announced in 2016, there have been numerous reports of mismanagement, unrealistic expectations, and high employee turnover within the team in recent years. Scout has gone astray. Could Prime Air be the next to go down?