back to article Amazon halts work on ‘Scout’ delivery-bot that delivered parcels no faster than humans

E-commerce behemoth Amazon.com has stopped work on its “Scout” parcel delivery robots. “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,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “As a result …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I’m old fashioned

    I like a chat with my human delivery agent

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: I’m old fashioned

      I don't want to talk to or even see my delivery person, but I do have stairs up to my house from the sidewalk, so that thing is as useless as a classic Dalek for reaching my front door.

      1. Gomez Adams

        Re: I’m old fashioned

        As well as having to deal with stairs there is also rough ground, overgrown shrubbery, badly parked cars blocking access and kids bikes a other toys scattered on the path up to the door.

      2. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
        Coat

        Re: I’m old fashioned

        A classic Dalek? They were going up and down stairs as early as "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". Just off screen, that's all.

        In other news, I should probably get out more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I’m old fashioned

          I ordered a set of bagpipe chanters, a new toilet plunger, and some morris minor indicator lamps off Amazon.

          When I got home the Scouts had exterminated my apartment block

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I’m old fashioned

      A chat? Round here you'll be lucky to find one that speaks enough English to understand "there should be 3 boxes, not 2".

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: I’m old fashioned

        Ah yes, that happened to me with some flatpack furniture, a week later got a call from courier going when do you want your package as its getting in the way, because their failure to deliver the third box was my fault.

        Luckily most delivery drivers I get are perfectly fine, however at my place of work they are completly different, one particular one always seems to want some form of argument.

        1. fidodogbreath Silver badge

          Re: I’m old fashioned

          one particular one always seems to want some form of argument.

          Tell them it's not the right room for an argument.

          1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

            Re: I’m old fashioned

            They'll only disagree.

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: I’m old fashioned

          "one particular one always seems to want some form of argument."

          Just the 10 minute special or the full half hour?

          1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

            Re: I’m old fashioned

            Full half an hour I need to speak to someone type things, wouldn't be an issue but I always bump into the git.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: I’m old fashioned

      If I rush to the door I can often shout "Thank you!" before they drive away. I respect the fact that they are short of time but would be happier if they actually had time for at least one short break during their shift.

      1. FrogsAndChips

        Re: I’m old fashioned

        I'd also appreciate if they made sure there was someone home before dropping the parcel on my doorstep. It seems they only knock as if to say "Grab this before a neighbour or stranger does, and tough luck if you're not in!". I live in a block of flats where they generally have several packages to deliver, if mine is still there when they've done their round, they should take it back to the depot instead of leaving it for the first comer to snatch.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I’m old fashioned

          Knock? Yours knock? Ours never knock or ring the bell; I can't tell you how many times I've been home when a package was delivered, but didn't know it for hours. And that's USPS, UPS, and FedEx. None of them knock or ring the bell. I can only assume they're not allowed enough time to step on the porch and push the button, just get close and toss the package on the porch instead.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: I’m old fashioned

            You can sign up for alerts with some of them. When I have Amazon deliveries I have the app deliver a notification to my phone so I can grab it, though I've never heard of anyone having a package stolen from their house in my neighborhood so I'm not too concerned.

            1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

              Re: I’m old fashioned

              I will often get alerts from Yodel or DPD that my package has been delivered... usually about 8 hours after I spoke to the chap at the door.

              1. DS999 Silver badge

                Re: I’m old fashioned

                Well those are worse than useless!

                I get a notification from Amazon (including a picture of my package sitting on my porch) within a minute or so of the actual delivery. I know because on more than one occasion when I've had my upstairs windows open I hear the truck pull away and then see the notification pop up.

      2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: I’m old fashioned

        They do have time for one short break in their 12-14 hour shift, but they'd rather spend it surfing the porcelain net than speaking to anyone.

    4. tokai

      Re: I’m old fashioned

      You’re why delivery people don’t ring doorbells anymore ;-P

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    WTF?

    "fuelled by an ageing workforce"

    What ?

    They've got more than a billion people and they can't find a thousand youngsters to deliver packages ?

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: "fuelled by an ageing workforce"

      Presumably they can earn more money working in the factories that actually make the stuff?

      1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: "fuelled by an ageing workforce"

        More like they're locked in the factory, and the only thing they're earning is their chance at graduating high school isn't torpedoed for refusing factory work. No high school graduation, no college and the only job they're allowed to take is standing at the other end ot a string from a water buffalo making sure it's not constipated.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: "fuelled by an ageing workforce"

      There is probably a greater demand for "zero touch" deliveries in China than in the west.

    3. Graham Dawson Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: "fuelled by an ageing workforce"

      Package delivery robots run on PEOPLE! THEY RUN ON PEOPLE!!

  3. werdsmith Silver badge

    Starship delivery robots in various towns and cities around the world continue to deliver top up groceries and have done for years now.

    1. Naich

      We call them "Prosecco robots" because of what we mainly use them for.

  4. GlenP Silver badge

    Grocery delivery robot numbers are increasing steadily round here, in the towns at least (doubt they'll ever reach this semi-rural backwater).

    They do have their problems though, such as one sitting by a pedestrian crossing waiting for someone to come and press the button so it could cross! That could easily be resolved though.

    1. Alumoi Silver badge
      Joke

      Sure thing. Let it cross and may the fastest car claim it.

  5. Screwed

    Scalability

    Round my area, Royal Mail have largely switched to electric vehicles. And what a difference to noise and, most especially, diesel exhaust - which can be very bad when they restart the engine multiple times even in our short road.

    From that point of view, I'd very much appreciate one of these delivering rather than the diesel vehicles Amazon (and most others) use. But how would Amazon handle the sixty miles from their nearest depot to where I live? A local depot which employs people to transfer packages from vans or lorries to Scouts seems the only possibility. Which would require considerable numbers of transfer depots to cover even the urban areas of a country. With staff. And lots of Scouts so they can still deliver in a sensible time even at busy periods. And particularly so when they have to wait, possibly for many hours, for the customer to unload them.

    So this seems feasible to use only in specific areas which match how they operate. No wonder Amazon are not expanding the project.

    And I very much agree with those who prefer a brief chat with a human.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Scalability

      Amazon do have a depot near me where the big lorries arrive from the warehouses and they transfer the stuff to smaller vans that do the last (up to 5) mile(s) delivery.

    2. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Scalability

      Royal Mail here have ebike trikes with a small van bit at the back (etrikevan?) - I asked one of our posties which he preferred, and he reckoned the etrikevan was great, it had roof and sides for when it rains, and went fine on what counts for hills in East London.

    3. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Scalability

      Electric delivery vehicles used to be common in the UK in towns. There were two sorts, the milk float type and the delivery platform (pull the handle and the unit follows along). I'd guess if they're not used now its because the bean counters saw normal vans as more efficient (i.e. short term cost is less).

      The most common vehicle for the postman used to be the bicycle but its not that good for package delivery (As a schoolkid I used to work at Christmas as a temporary delivery person... I don't suppose this is done any more, 'elf and safety, labor laws and what-have-you.)

      (One delivery vehicle that used to be a standout was the horse and cart. These are actually an early example of a semi-autonomous vehicle in that the driver/deliveryman could walk the route delivering stuff and the cart would keep pace with him.)(Again, an 'elf and safety nightmare...what used to be 'good for the roses' would now require a full hazmat cleanup crew.)

      1. Potty Professor Bronze badge
        Devil

        Re: Scalability

        My grandfather was a delivery van driver for Lyons' Tea Houses, and he used to have a horse (named Pimple because of a large one on his nose). The horse knew the round as well as Grandpa, so when he saw Grandpa emerge from the latest delivery, he would already be on his way to the next drop, and G would simply walk along behind. Trouble came at the last drop, G had to tie the reins to a lamppost to stop Pimple from heading back to the depot, often at breakneck speed, leaving Grandpa to walk the five or so miles back. He was then issued with a petrol van, which was very unreliable and used to break down in the most unfortunate places, such as at the top of Pentonville Hill, and outside the Angel Islington.

      2. Fifth Horseman

        Re: Scalability

        A great uncle of mine was a drayman for one of the local breweries in the horse-drawn days (Websters, now long gone. Sam Smiths over the border in Tadcaster do still use horse-drawn drays, but mostly for publicity purposes);

        Both drayman and horse would have a pint at every pub, and by the end of the round old uncle Edgar was usually pretty plastered. The shire horse, due to weighing in at the best part of a ton, handled his ale a bit better and always found his way back to the brewery mostly upright with Edgar half asleep in the dray. I don't think current health and safety laws would permit these shenanigans. The past, as they say, is a different country.

        1. Potty Professor Bronze badge
          Angel

          Drunken animals, was Scalability

          My sister married a man whose father was the publican of the Red Lion in Easton, on Portland. They had a rescue dog called Paddy, who used to hang around in the Public bar in the certain knowledge that she would get at least one pint during the evening. She often was indulged with more than one, and at chucking out time, she would be found under the settle with both front paws over her head, pissed as a newt, and woke up next morning with a huge hangover.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Scalability

      FWIW I only ever seem to see electric Amazon delivery vans these days around my area. The size of large Transit vans. No idea of the range, but I suspect it's decent.

      Ah, here's an atricle about them buying 1800 Mercedes vans. It only seems to have a range of about 90 miles, although MB claim the average van driver only does 62 miles per day. I'd imagine Amazon have charging points at the loading docks so they can top up between delivery rounds,

      They're also trialling electric HGVs. I suspect they will be a short range only option for the foreseeable future though, where vans are not enough. It has a claimed maximum range of 155 miles between charges but doesn't specify if that's empty, "average load" for a 37t full load and as far as I can tell, can only be charged at it's Tilbury and Milton Keynes depots for now.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Scalability

        "No idea of the range, but I suspect it's decent."

        The range can come in increments since delivery routes are pretty well known. The smaller the battery, the more efficient the van will be.

  6. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Having products in a country where dissent is not allowed helps a lot to avoid negative feedbacks.

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge

    " we worked to create a unique delivery experience"

    I have never wanted an experience - just to have my parcel delivered with minimum fuss and intrusion into what I'm doing when it arrives (which, incidentally, is why I have a large letter box)..

    I seriously wonder where the idea that everything has to be an "experience" came from. Most of the time it really means making simple activities complicated and annoying. But I suppose pissing off the customer is one way to gain attention (rather similar to what babies do to the same end).

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Doesn't

      a "unique delivery experience" usually involve cutting a hole in the bottom of the pizza box?

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: " we worked to create a unique delivery experience"

      I guess they mean the experience of having someone drop the parcels at your doorstep, vs the experience of receiving a text message from a robot, and having to go out on to the street to scan QR codes to retrieve it.

    3. Little Mouse Silver badge

      Re: " we worked to create a unique delivery experience"

      "pissing off the customer"...

      I think you mean: supplying an Armitage Shanks experience...?

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: " we worked to create a unique delivery experience"

      "I seriously wonder where the idea that everything has to be an "experience" came from."

      Marketing, obviously! More specifically, US marketing teams.

      And, as usual, it's now being so overused, the marketers who originally thought it was a clever new gimmick will be working hard to come up with something "news, fresh, dynamic, emotional, green".

  8. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    "no explanation"?

    The reason for failure is obvious - they don't have an arm to launch parcels over the fence or stuff them in a nearby rubbish bin?

    That said, most delivery people work damn hard for bugger all money and most do a good job. Shouldn't tar them all with the same brush.

  9. Auntie Dix Bronze badge
    Devil

    The Real Reason that the Scout Walked Slowly

    “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.”

    What the heck is Amazon going to do with the 250 midgets who were inside those coolers?

    1. DreamEater

      Re: The Real Reason that the Scout Walked Slowly

      Stag Do’s by Amazon (TM)

    2. Shalghar Bronze badge

      Re: The Real Reason that the Scout Walked Slowly

      "What the heck is Amazon going to do with the 250 midgets who were inside those coolers?"

      Create a new StarWars movie, either another Ewok story or hundreds of R2 units doing some robo high school dance movie.

  10. PhilipN Silver badge

    Elon to the rescue?

    Now this is one use where the vacuum tube could and should be used. Akin to the moving of cash around Department Stores way back when.

    Unfortunate side effects displayed in Brazil (the movie) but that is way in the future - isn't it??

  11. DrXym Silver badge

    Not surprising

    Wheelchair & buggy users could tell you how awful footpaths can be. That's an immediate limiting factor to any drone delivery service. As is range - if this thing trundles along at walking pace and contains 1 or 2 packages, and requires recharging every round trip or so then the logistics get stupid. How many drones do you need to replace one delivery driver who might have a 20 mile delivery area?

    But on top of that people live in houses, flats, behind gates, up steps and all the rest. Even if a person gets a notification this drone is outside, it would be absolutely useless if "outside" means further away than a human could get, e.g. sitting at the bottom of a block of flats instead of knocking on your door.

    It also doesn't account for thieves and griefers who'll be more than happy to kick the robots over, stick gum or a bag over their sensors, bust them open for their contents and so forth. Every time that happens, someone has to go out in the van and recover the damned thing.

    So yeah. Maybe it could work in a campus or something where the environment is controlled. Doesn't seem viable in the wide world.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Not surprising

      Especially considering the speed they travel at. Which begs the question, why are they so slow? Is the navigation and sensor interpretation s/w not capable of coping with higher speeds? Is the battery capacity limiting the speed in favour of range? Or is it really "safety", ie Amazon being risk averse or local authorities placing a limit?

  12. trevorde Silver badge

    Scout is obsolete

    Wheeled robots are sooo last century; drones is where it's at:

    https://www.zdnet.com/article/prime-air-amazon-brings-drone-delivery-to-customers/

    https://www.theregister.com/2020/03/30/why_no_delivery_drones_during_coronavirus_lockdown/

    https://www.theregister.com/2021/09/23/bird_attacks_ground_google_wing_drones/

    1. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Scout is obsolete

      Flying drones are even more problematic. They'd to subject to aviation law, unable to land / hover in a lot of places, useless without a convenient delivery spot, a danger to the public, can't carry much payload, risk hit pylons, unable to fly in weather, a noise nuisance and would probably drop out of the skies from time to time. And if they ever deliver food you'd better believe the seagulls would figure how to knock them out of the skies.

      They probably have a niche role, but I doubt to the extent that they could operate in the mainstream.

  13. Withdrawn
    Holmes

    I'll tell you why

    Clearly the folks in charge of the various delivery services here would be happy to automate as much labor as possible, but there is another problem. There is an element here that festers in our zero-trust society and that element will happily destroy the delivery bot to get the goods before it reaches the door. Even now without the bots, we have folks following the delivery trucks along their routes to snatch up whatever is placed on a front porch or other conveniently accessible area of the destination. Delivery bots without defense mechanisms don't stand a chance.

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: I'll tell you why

      The same applies to human delivery workers though.

    2. Fifth Horseman

      Re: I'll tell you why

      In my town both the bot and contents would wind up in Cash Converters. Or for sale for a tenner in the alleyway behind the local Yates's.

    3. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: I'll tell you why

      Tech that doesn't factor in human nature to either vandalize, steal or repurpose the thing beyond its intended use will fail.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I hope that this has cost them billions

    of dolars.

    Amazon is a hateful company. Baldy Bezos has a lot to answer for especially now that they have hired a former Prison Manager to train the worker bees. She has expertise in how to contain recalcitranct prisoners... sorry workers.

  15. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I'm sure they have got cameras, GPS, sensors and alarms but around my neighbourhood those things wouldn't make much of a difference as I would still only give it 5 minutes before some yob crow bars it open to nicked the contents and then throws the carcass down a back alley.

    And as for flying drones, they may avoid most of the problems mentioned above of the ground drones, but our houses and apartments were not build with landing drones in mind with little helipads. So apart from maybe delivering to purpose built drop of points where you can then go an collect it from, I don't see many of us having our Amazon orders coming by drones in the foreseeable future.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      "So apart from maybe delivering to purpose built drop of points where you can then go an collect it from, I don't see many of us having our Amazon orders coming by drones in the foreseeable future."

      I was playing with my friend's daughters when they were younger and was swinging around the middle one when the little one wanted to do it too and came running up. There was no way I could stop fast enough to avoid a collision. She got knocked down but was ok for all of that. I think it took a couple of years off of my lifespan from the panic. What happens if a small child runs out to play with the neat flying toy painted in bright trademarked colors? I shudder to think what could happen. Every parent (grandparent, uncle, aunt) knows that if not watched closely, small children can accelerate at greater than the speed of sound. It's the gleeful yelling that covers up the sonic boom.

    2. An_Old_Dog Silver badge
      Trollface

      Self-Mobile Parts-Supply

      Forget the robot's packages -- the robots themselves would be a goldmine of handy parts for geeks!

  16. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge
    Pirate

    Crack open for prizes

    I'm betting they were discontinued because people suck.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Crack open for prizes

      "I'm betting they were discontinued because people suck."

      There's that, but it's a small unit and somebody has to load and unload the thing. If a package is too long to fit inside or a couple of shipments won't all fit, it's back to needing a human for the delivery. What would be the point in having this thing only be able to deliver a shipment to one house? Somebody has to be present to get the delivery as well so if there is nobody available, it has to crawl back to its master and be reloaded.

      I can see that something much larger that can follow the delivery person might be useful. They can park the van at the end of the street and a package trolley can follow them down the block as they visit each address. I'm talking about something that's the size of a shelving rack. That wouldn't need to be super secure since the delivery person would be nearby, but would have locking covers so people can just run up and grab some boxes.

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