Move over pedestrians, Bezos has stuff to deliver

By Yair Oded

Updated May 17, 2020 at 09:20 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

994

In cities across the world, from London to Beijing, delivery robots have been deployed in order to test out a service that could potentially remove human interference from the last leg of the delivery process, which is often the most costly and problematic. Unsurprisingly, Amazon constitutes one of the pioneers on the delivery-robot front, and earlier this year the company has launched a fleet of mini six-wheeled robots named Amazon Scout, which trailed the streets of Snohomish County, Washington. Throughout the trials, Amazon Scouts carried anything from groceries and ice chests to packages and delivered them to customers’ homes (under the supervision of human babysitters). Yet, uncertainty lingers regarding the robots’ future and chances of success.

Under the current shopping climate, it is understandable why the notion of having robots deliver our goods has surfaced. Over the past several years, people across the globe have drastically increased their reliance on online-shopping services, and now expect products to arrive swiftly to their doorsteps. The rising demand in delivery services resulted in congestion of city streets that are inundated with vehicles dispatching packages. In an interview for Scientific American, Paul Mackie, Director of Research and Communications at the Arlington, Virginia Mobility Lab, said that “Deliveries are trending upwards in all dense city centres, and if city and state leaders don’t start thinking about innovations like robot deliveries, we can expect even worse traffic jams when we’re all trying to get places.” Mackie suggests that by transferring delivery devices to the sidewalks from the roads, cities would significantly reduce both parking and traffic issues.

Naturally, it isn’t traffic congestion that keeps online retail giants up at night, but profits, and it is a growing assumption that by entrusting robots with last-mile delivery tasks, companies could save a significant amount of dough. The New York-based firm McKinsey & Company issued a report last year in which it contends that once manufacturing of such robots is streamlined and technology enables them to become completely autonomous, companies such as Amazon would save billions of dollars in expenses.

Amazon isn’t alone in the race, however. One of Bezos’ sworn enemies is the San Francisco and Estonia- based Starship Technologies, whose robots have to date carried out an estimated 25,000 deliveries. Starship’s robots, which look like what would happen if Stormtrooper and R2-D2 had a child, operate on a cocktail of machine-learning software, sensors, and embedded digital maps, which enable them to navigate city streets with virtually no human supervision.

dims

But for all the hype around them, the miniature space-freaks that have made appearances on sidewalks across the world still face major challenges that may prevent them from revolutionising the delivery business. One major obstacle facing Amazon Scout and its robo-siblings is how to navigate crowded, often bumpy, urban sidewalks without disruption and accidents. Spontaneous encounters between an absent-minded child or pet and a scurrying robot could prove to be more than unpleasant.

Other than having to perfect their urban strutting skills, delivery robots are expected to encounter another obstacle: human cruelty. Already, videos surfaced of people violating and harassing the robots— disrupting their routes, taunting, and kicking them. Another big issue facing the army of delivery robots is that they may prove to be defenceless against robbery attempts (although some have suggested that automatic locking mechanisms could potentially protect them from thieves).

It remains to be seen whether the pros will outweigh the cons as far as delivery robots are concerned. So far, communities have been sceptical about the little creatures and city governments have been stingy with the number of permits they grant companies to unleash their automated delivery pets in the streets.

What is missing from the debate, however, is a voice questioning the delivery-robot enterprise not merely from a practical standpoint, but from a moral and ecological one. It is troubling that while both companies’ and the public’s attention is focused on smoothing out the delivery process, very little thought is attributed to the fact that such initiatives divert us further away from serious contemplation about the consequences of our online shopping frenzy. We forget that what truly needs to be resolved isn’t the speed and efficiency of delivery, but the volume and frequency of our out-of-control consumption habits, which, whether or not we care to admit it, lead us to our own undoing.

Keep On Reading

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

ISIS started trending on X after the terrorist group allegedly threatened to attack Champions League

By Charlie Sawyer

French protesters to poo in the Seine amid Paris 2024 Olympics controversy

By Harriet Piercy

Escort Babylon explained: The controversial escort service platform

By Abby Amoakuh

Comedian Arj Barker responds after throwing breastfeeding mother and baby out of his show

By Charlie Sawyer

Australian journalist slams viewer who said her outfit was inappropriate for reading the news

By Malavika Pradeep

What is a femboy? Understanding this gender expression term

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Fashionably late to the satirical bash, conservatives finally get the message behind The Boys

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Boycott BrewDog trends on X after allegations of racism, EDL association, and employee discrimination circulate

By Charlie Sawyer

John F. Kennedy’s grandson Jack Schlossberg is losing it on social media and everyone’s loving it

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Children as young as 14 participate in feral cat-killing competition, leaving over 300 animals dead

By Charlie Sawyer

Quiet on Set documentary: Nickelodeon star Drake Bell details extensive sexual assault at 15 by Brian Peck

By Abby Amoakuh

Netizens expose Glen Powell’s viral story about a cannibal encounter as fake

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

A woman in Nigeria is facing three years in prison after reviewing a can of tomato puree

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

UK to criminalise deepfake pornography, regardless of creator’s intentions

By Abby Amoakuh

US university launches investigation after trans woman filmed and confronted in women’s bathroom

By Abby Amoakuh

Why you should keep an eye on The Summer I Turned Pretty star Lola Tung and her Broadway debut

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Tory MP Gillian Keegan asked to justify arresting homeless people for their smell

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Facebook sperm donations groups are on the rise, and they’re terrifying

By Abby Amoakuh

What’s going on with the fake vegetables and fruits in America? Unpacking TikTok’s latest conspiracy

By Fleurine Tideman

Travis Kelce gave both Taylor Swift and the whole world the ick