As far as delivery robots go, Amazon’s in-house Scout program seemed like a no-brainer. Few — if any — companies stand to gain more from a successful sidewalk deliver service. As noted by Bloomberg earlier this week, however, Amazon is pumping the brakes on the program.
In a statement offered to TechCrunch, Amazon notes the company isn’t killing the robot altogether, but is instead scaling back the program. This is still a dramatic setback for the program, not to mention the 400 or so humans that were working on it. How small the new team will ultimately be remains to be seen.
A spokesperson for the company tells TechCrunch:
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. 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.
The program was officially unveiled in 2019, following the retail giant’s quiet acquisition of robotics firm Dispatch two years prior. Amazon was expanding the service’s reach into 2020 when it added Georgia and Tennessee to a list that already included select markets in California and Washington.
At the time, the company touted the program as a method for continuing deliveries amid COVID shutdowns, though the pilots still required the presence of “Scout Ambassadors” — humans tasked with making sure nothing went awry. All told, the service made a lot of sense for an e-commerce firm with deep investments in robotics. Of course, it’s an already crowded field that’s a long ways from mainstream adoption.
The decision to end real-world testing is part of a larger belt-tightening at the company that includes the recent discontinuation of its Glow hardware. All of that comes as Amazon is getting more aggressive about big ticket acquisitions under CEO Andy Jassy — some of which have caught the attention of regulatory bodies like the FTC.
It’s worth noting that Amazon’s drone delivery service had its own struggles early on, though the past year has seen the company putting more promotional power into the offering, expanding its reach and peeling back the curtains at some of its R&D work.