Amazon and FedEx push to put delivery robots on your sidewalk

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Amazon hopes its Scout robots will carry packages autonomously the “last mile,” from delivery hubs to homes. – ROGER KISBY/GETTY IMAGES

The companies are backing bills in more than a dozen states that would legalize the devices. Some bills would block cities from regulating them at all.

IN FEBRUARY, A lobbyist friend urged Erik Sartorius, the executive director of the Kansas League of Municipalities, to look at a newly introduced bill that would affect cities. The legislation involved “personal delivery devices”—robots that, as if in a sci-fi movie, might deliver a bag of groceries, a toolbox, or a prescription to your doorstep. It would have limited their weight to 150 pounds, not including the cargo inside. And it would have allowed them to operate on any sidewalk or crosswalk in Kansas at speeds up to 6 miles per hour, the pace of a quick human jog.

Lawmakers and lobbyists say the bill was drafted with help from Amazon. In later testimony to a state senate committee, Amazon lobbyist Jennie Massey said the bill would allow devices like Scout, the company’s bright blue, six-wheeled robot, “to bring new technology and innovation to Kansas.” She noted that Amazon had invested $2.2 billion in Kansas since 2010, and that the company employed 3,000 full-time workers in the state.

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Amazon has made its own autonomous six-wheeled delivery robot

Amazon is entering the robot delivery game with an electric hamper on wheels it’s calling the Amazon Scout. The e-commerce giant is the latest company to try its hand at this sort of automated, last-mile delivery solution, following a crop of startups, as well as experiments by larger firms like Domino’s Pizza and PepsiCo.

Details about the Scout are thin on the ground, but the design looks similar to existing robots. In fact, the Scout looks almost identical to devices from Starship Technologies, an Estonian startup that was an early entrant to the field. (In a statement to The Verge after this story was published, a spokesperson for Starship Technologies said “[w]e’re huge believers in autonomous delivery robots. As the company that created this category, it’s great to see others realizing the potential.”)

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