Trucks and forklifts that drive themselves may be Amazon.com’s (AMZN) next play to revolutionize e-commerce.
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More than a year ago, Amazon formed a team of about a dozen employees to capitalize on driverless technology, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. But while companies in Silicon Valley and Detroit race to develop self-driving cars and trucks, Amazon is said to have no plans to build its own driverless vehicles. Rather, the retail giant appears focused on putting the emerging technology to use in its warehouses and supply chain.
Amazon has a broader initiative in place to take more control of its deliveries. The Seattle-based company leased dozens of cargo planes and purchased thousands of truck trailers to quickly send packages to so-called “last mile” carriers like United Parcel Service (UPS). Amazon has been testing drone deliveries since 2013. With greater control, Amazon hopes to speed up delivery times and lower costs.
Driverless technology would further streamline Amazon’s logistics operation.
“If nothing else, [Amazon] has become a significant logistics company. The idea of using autonomous vehicles that can work around the clock is really the perfect implementation of the technology,” said Mike Ramsey, a transportation and mobility analyst at Gartner.
A variety of self-driving equipment could be in the works, as Amazon looks to move packages from warehouse to doorstep in record time. Driverless cars have the potential to shake up the business of delivering packages to customers, while autonomous forklifts and big rigs would cut down the amount of time Amazon needs to fulfill orders.
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Amazon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A laundry list of companies in the automobile and tech industries are investing in self-driving technology. Ford (NYSE: F) and General Motors (GM) are two of the major automakers working on driverless cars. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCAU) has partnered with Waymo, the car unit launched by Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL), to build minivans that drive themselves. Silicon Valley’s driverless players also include Tesla (TSLA), Uber and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), whose ambitions have remained secretive.
By Gartner’s count, there are more than 40 companies actively working on autonomous software. For Amazon, the best route is to be a customer rather than a developer of the technology, Ramsey said.
Amazon recently posted a job listing for research scientists in the Amazon Robotics division who will work on “future mobility and transportation systems,” the Wall Street Journal noted. Early this year, Amazon secured a patent for a system that guides self-driving vehicles on roadways.
Amazon already has a presence in car technology with Alexa, the company’s virtual assistant most associated with Echo devices. Alexa is making its way into cars made by Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. The technology will allow owners to start their vehicles or complete an order, among other tasks, using voice commands. Amazon is also working with Audi and DHL in Germany on delivering packages to a customer’s car.