Is this the next great innovation in retail? Amazon has launched a "cooler sized" automated delivery device which will begin transporting packages to customers in Washington state.

“We’ve been hard at work developing a new, fully-electric delivery system – Amazon Scout – designed to safely get packages to customers using autonomous delivery devices,” the company announced in a statement from Sean Scott, Vice President of its Amazon Scout division.

The news lifted the company’s share price, which closed trading up 14.91 points per share (0.91%).

Amazon Scout will make its first deliveries in Washington State

The six-wheeled vehicles will initially operate during business hours in Snohomish County, Washington, before a wider rollout. An Amazon employee will accompany the Scout in its early runs. The robots will move at “walking pace”.

Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers welcomed the cute new robot arrivals. “We are delighted to welcome Amazon Scout into our community,” he said. “Similar to Amazon, we are always looking for new ways to better deliver service to our residents. From the latest Amazon innovation to cutting edge technology, Snohomish County is a great place for entrepreneurial creativity.”

The company said it was confident the Scout had been developed with the ability to safely navigate around pedestrians, pets and any other obstacles.

Numerous retailers and robotics firms seeking a foothold in autonomous delivery

Amazon has long been seeking efficiency gains in the ‘last mile’ of delivery. It had previously established its Delivery Service Partners initiative, which facilitates individuals creating logistics businesses that will work alongside the retailer. It has also poured resources into developing Amazon Prime Air, its drone delivery initiative.

Other companies have also entered the automated delivery space; robotics firm Starship Technologies has developed a fleet of robots that deliver pizza and coffee to students at George Mason University, Virginia. The students can order through an app.

Marble has also developed delivery robots and is currently trialling its four-wheeled technology in Dallas, Texas. Postmates also has plans to use robots to courier food to customers in Los Angeles.

Despite the market’s apparent enthusiasm for the Scout, the jury remains out on whether automated delivery will ever achieve cost efficiency. “It’s a market that has yet to be validated,” Brian Gerkey, CEO of Open Robotics, told Wired. “You’ve seen a lot of startups working on this, but I think there’s always been this question of whether it’s going to make economic sense. It’s tough to beat the capabilities of a person who goes around doing that last-mile delivery.”

Header image credit: Amazon