Amazon Scout via official website 2019
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Credit: Amazon

More cities roll out the welcome mat for robots, previewing our delivery droid future

Contributed by
Aug 8, 2019

The future robot takeover that keeps some of us up at night may still be far on the distant horizon, but we can definitely see the first glimpses now…and we’re pretty sure it’s not a mirage. 

‘Bots from Amazon and food delivery service Postmates have both been given the green light from a pair of California cities to take their test programs wider, meaning that people in both San Francisco and Irvine may already be jaded robot pros by the time the rest of us get a real-world chance at doing our first delivery droid double-take.

Tech Crunch reports that San Francisco is set to finally lift its sidewalk ban on roving robots, clearing the way for Postmates — which has been consulting with the city since 2017 on how to deploy the service — to finally take the restraining bolts off their perky-looking, googly-eyed machines. 

Postmates’ robot, which goes by the decidedly unthreatening moniker “Serve,” reportedly can carry up to 50 pounds of yums for up to 25 miles on a single electric charge. Because unexpected things can happen out there in the mad, bad world, “each rover has a ‘Help’ button, touchscreen and video chat display for customers or passers-by to use if necessary,” the report states. 

As for the robot people will be seeing on the streets, Serve’s benignly blocky yellow grub gadget looks like something straight out of a video game — sort of a cross between Borderlands Claptrap and a cutesy character from Banjo-Kazooie:

The Serve food delivery robot from Postmates

Credit: Postmates Inc.

Meanwhile, Amazon (which is also testing aerial delivery drones) has just revealed that its six-wheeled Scout delivery droid is about to venture beyond its test-phase digs in Washington state, and starting up in Irvine “with a small number” of the machines delivering anything Amazon can fit in them, to customers “Monday through Friday, during daylight hours,” according to the company’s blog.

Unlike Postmates’ Serve bot, Amazon’s Scouts initially won’t be touring Southern California alone, though: “The devices will autonomously follow their delivery route, and initially be accompanied by an Amazon Scout Ambassador [i.e., a human].” Amazon is also a bit more hesitant to frame its new California service as a sure-fire sign of Scout’s wider rollout. “We’re still in field test mode and our expansion to the Irvine area is just another in the many steps forward for this new delivery system,” the company states.

The prize for being the oldest of the old-school robot street pros, though, may go to residents of Washington, D.C. People in some parts of the nation’s capital have, since 2017, had to get used to sharing sidewalk space with diminutive droid deliverers, thanks to Postmates’ first test of its food delivery service. But until robot delivery truly gets its footing and we see how people and machines will interact in more places, getting comfortable with robots might just be one trend where some of us are actually glad to be behind the curve. 


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