back to article Amazon's titchy robots hit the streets, Waymo starts a self-driving car factory...

Hello, here’s this week’s roundup of all things robot and AI-related. We’re talking delivery robots, self-driving cars, and a new natural language dataset to play with. Autonomous delivery robots are coming: Amazon is testing out an autonomous delivery service using a small, six-wheeled robot called Scout. Scout relies on …

  1. Flywheel Silver badge

    Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

    Hmmm.. a smallish, eventually autonomous delivery-bot carrying high-value consumer goodies on the mean streets of [insert wild-west UK city here]. They really haven't thought this through, have they?

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

      Actually, rather a lot...

      "Hmmm.. a smallish, eventually autonomous delivery-bot carrying high-value consumer goodies GOD KNOWS WHAT PAYLOAD on the mean streets of [insert wild-west UK city here]. They really haven't thought this through, have they?"

      No, they haven't. And our clueless politicians will be desperately playing catch-up as usual.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

        > GOD KNOWS WHAT PAYLOAD

        Yes, how long before a drug gang starts making clones that look like the Amazon Scouts but deliver drugs instead? Not enough drug dogs around to go sniffing every one.

        Likewise have a gun delivered to the bank just ahead of your armed robbery!

        The Putin version delivers Novichok.

        I wonder if Banksy will paint one while it is trundling along?

        Aah, the possibilities are endless.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

          "Yes, how long before a drug gang starts making clones that look like the Amazon Scouts but deliver drugs instead?"

          Why bother - human mules are cheaper, readily available and look almost like other humans. If they get taken off the streets by police there is also zero cost to the criminal.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

        It can't be that difficult to prevent illicit clones using cryptography.

        In a vague and possibly flawed (because I'm writing this on a train) nutshell:

        Amazon could use Blockchain tech for this. Assign Amazon Prime members an allocation of tokens linked to their prime account. Upon order of an item a token is spent generating a hash which is linked to a wallet which is linked to a droid. The droid can then broadcast it's hashes over a short range radio signal so that it's possible for law enforcement to verify the hashes against Amazon's Blockchain.

        The Blockchain can have meta data associated with each unique hash to allow coppers to verify that the payload in the droid is the same as the Blockchain metadata (weight, dimensions, serial number on a tamper proof tag etc).

        That way it's possible to know if a box has been tampered with or contains something larger / heavier or smaller / lighter than it should be. They will also know if the box has been tampered with.

        Upon confirmed delivery (when the box is in the hands of the intended recipient), the token used for the transaction is sent back to original owners wallet confirming receipt of the parcel and allowing it to be used in another future transaction.

        Bottom line: The tech for this exists and could potentially make deliveries more secure.

        A man in a van doesn't prevent any of the following:

        1. Theft

        2. The transport of illicit goods.

        3. Tampering with packages.

        A man in a van doesn't provide:

        1. Verifiable proof of the payload to roadside law enforcement.

        2. Verifiable proof of delivery.

        3. Reliable tamper evidence.

        However...a man in a van does provide:

        1. Added liability to the employer in terms of vehicle insurance, health and safety bollocks, workers rights and crappy unprofessional behaviour.

        2. Fuel costs.

        3. A person that can be arrested with company property that can be impounded as evidence.

        A robot provides:

        1. A worker than can operate 24/7 with relatively few sick (maintenance days), zero holiday pay and zero arguments over rights.

        2. A myriad of sensors and tracking abilities.

        3. The ability to be armed (if deployed somewhere like Johannesburg) with reasonable measures such as tear gas, tasers etc.

        4. Much lower insurance liability. If a droid gets nicked or damaged, nobody cares, they're cheap to replace and rectify compared to a lost or damaged human. A messed up human costs millions. A messed up robot costs thousands. You can lose an order of magnitude more robots and parcels before it hurts as much as a human breaking his foot due to dropping heavy stuff or crashing a van due to driving tired.

        Do I want to see autonomous delivery droids? Fuck yeah if they get the tech right.

        The reason Amazon logistics has become a Goliath in the industry is because the rest of the industry is miles behind and hasn't innovated since the fax machine. This has led to an expensive, wasteful and crap system.

        We need to push forward, whether the idea is mental or not. At the very least it needs to be tested to see if it works.

        I give Amazon 10/10 for being bold with their R&D. Sure, some of it won't work...but we can learn things from failure and develop even better solutions.

        1. defiler Silver badge

          Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

          You realise that pretty-much everyone walked out the moment you mentioned "blockchain", right?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

            blockchain - the solution looking for a problem

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

              Not really. The solution to a lot of problems shelved donkies ago.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

      They really haven't thought this through, have they?

      I suspect they have, but now starting field trials. So plucky scouts will be sent behind enemy lines to deliver dispatches. How many will make it? Who knows. To some extent, I guess Amazon could de-risk the theft costs by only delivering low value cargo, but then it'll need to be stuff that's cheap and small to fit the payload bay. Which means the highest value part of the delivery would be the Scout itself. That could be handy when someone cracks it's programming and figures out how to install a beer cooler. Scout then becomes Butler.

      I'm also guessing this is why we've been seeing stories about how 'Click and Collect' could save the high street from Amazon's predations. Instead of store owners flogging stuff, they can act as drone tenders. That's the part that I'm curious about, ie who loads the Scouts and where they're dispatched from. Given range limitations, they're only likely useful over short routes, which means Amazon would need more physical presence.. Just like those traditional retailers. And I'm also curious how Scout will ring doorbells. Maybe it'll just sit there headbutting the door like a horny tortoise wanting to be let in.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

        > how Scout will ring doorbells

        Or open doors to get into the building, operate lifts (or face the Dalek dilemma), and generally navigate inside an unknown building (with potentially bad/no reception allowing to remote control it).

        I tend to think this is just another marketing stunt. Like, you remember, those drones which would revolutionize fast on-premises delivery by crashing through the glass facade of your office building to bring you a sandwich and a cool beverage.

        1. Flywheel Silver badge

          Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

          > how Scout will ring doorbells

          Anyone who's an Amazon regular will undoubtedly have an Amazon "Smart" doorbell - Scout will just ping the doorbell's stored IP address and Bob's yer Uncle.

      2. GBE

        Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

        And I'm also curious how Scout will ring doorbells.

        Neither UPS nor Amazon delivery drivers ring doorbells now, so why would one expect a scout to do so?

    3. spold Bronze badge

      Re: Scout - what could possibly go wrong?

      I see a market for installing Faraday cages in horse-boxes. Pull up in front of them, drop the rear ramp, let them trot in.... communications lost & off to my fence (got to keep the horse meme going).

  2. DJV Silver badge
    Happy

    "The service is currently being rolled out"

    "rolled" snigger!

  3. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Joke

    Scout

    > it will be supervised by an Amazon employee during its trips to and from houses

    Because the robot doesn't yet know how to throw the package over the wall. Coming soon to v2.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Scout

      I take it that you've bin disappointed by where they left the parcel

    2. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Scout

      Unless these trundle bots can make really quick collision avoidance movments will we be seeing the headline "Citizen wins $megabux after be tripped up by robot" soon after the minders are dispensed with?

      "Your Honour, The robot tripped me up as I walked around the corner! and I've been traumatized and unable to play the piano ever since" ...

    3. SonOfDilbert
      Devil

      Re: Scout

      > Coming soon to v2.

      Coming soon to v2:

      - delivery bots that mimic human delivery personnel by ringing the doorbell and then leaving immediately

      - delivery bots that leave your parcel on the doorstep for 8 hours while you are at work

      - delivery bots that ignore your requested delivery time and tell you via an angry phone call that if you ain't home, the parcel will be sent back to the warehouse

      - warehouse bots that handle your package so roughly that the contents arrives smashed into smithereens

  4. Alan Bourke

    Self-driving cars getting a bit stale now.

    Come on tech industry, how about a new pie-in-the-sky load of old nonsense to generate headlines with.

    And that Amazon thing. I don't know what urban area anywhere in the world they think that's going to work .

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: Self-driving cars getting a bit stale now.

      > I don't know what urban area anywhere in the world they think that's going to work .

      Silicon Valley suburbs?

      (After all that's where everybody (who matters (to them)) lives.)

  5. Milton Silver badge

    What's wrong with this picture?

    "Although it can, apparently, navigate to its destination on its own it will be supervised by an Amazon employee during its trips to and from houses. Hopefully, a human presence will probably deter people from kicking the box on wheels or stealing its contents."

    1. If it always needs a person with it, it's useless. You may as well have a seat for the person, carry more goods and call it, oh, I don't know ... a "delivery van"?

    2. If unaccompanied—

    a. Superb theft target. Medium-sized van with a Faraday-shielded load area and a stick-on Amazon logo, an hour of patrolling on city streets kidnapping deliverybots, back to base (garage also shielded) and you've scored a nice little earner. Unless of course it's restricted to low-value goods, in which case, whater was the point?

    b. Fraud. Poorly paid Amazon despatcher lets his mate know when a £4.5k shipment of phones and gadgets is on its way, including a couple of nice ambush points ... the rest is obvious.

    c. Drug deliveries. Already mentioned by others. Who can tell at-a-glance the difference between an Amazon delivery-bot and one carrying narcotics?

    d. Terrorists. Also already mentioned? Either no one suspects the delivery-bot (before the first attack) or everyone hates and fears delivery-bots (after it), in which latter case they are removed from the streets because of hostility.

    e. Accidents. They won't be perfect and they will sooner or later have collisions with people, pets, cyclists, scooters and cars. How soon before a bus swerves to avoid one and someone is killed? The fact that this could just as easily happen with a manned van doesn't matter: people will immediately bang on about the "unacceptable risks" of bots.

    f. Surveillance, spying, voyeurism. It's not an Amazon bot that followed Gertrude down the street, taking photos of her legs—it just looked like one. It wasn't an Amazon bot that quartered the entire neighbourhood all morning hacking domestic WiFi. It wasn't an Amazon bot that collected photos of people going in and out of Babylon-on-Thames.

    g. Where's my stuff? How long before GPS spoofing, jamming, signal blocking and a ton of other lovingly crafted malware jams, confuses, misleads these bots, and goods are mis-delivered, or just missing, etc?

    Will a single bot deliver to a single address per mission? If not, how do you guarantee against pilfering? What happens when the battery runs out? Who collects bots which have died for any reason? What are my rights if the bot turned left into the canal carrying my new iPad? Will these things be contending for space on already crowded pavements, or cycle lanes, or roads and streets? Will one simply stop, forever, at a busy crossing? How soon will the urban craze of spoof-a-bot (using radio, lasers, ultrasonic bleepers, photographs and GPS futzing) continue before Amazon gives up? (User 'Spanish2019' will defend his title for "Most steps fallen by a decoyed Amazon bot", to widespread acclaim. His popularity will be exceeded by 'M.Hole66' bragging of his "Deepest manhole/roadworks containing a dead bot" record.) How many will return to base in Bumfuck, Rednecksville, riddled with bulletholes inflicted by drunken yahoos? If they use pedestrain crossings/ crosswalks, how many will simply be crushed by buses and truckers who don't give a damn? (Or even car drivers, who are already hostile to vehicles marked as auto-piloted?)

    (And don't get me started on the really sophisticated attacks, where Black Hats get into the despatch and routing system one day, and a dozen of them in the same city strike in the same morning, scoring £100k of stuff. It's only 50 bots with £2k of goods each.)

    In sum, this idea is ripe for mischief, theft and wastage in ways which human-monitored and -run stuff simply isn't.

    Even if you use it only for low-value consignments (why bother, then?) the "mischief" category is going to be a huge problem all by itself.

    Like the airborne drone delivery idea, it's an attractive concept for those who think "We can, so we should" and a prize waste of time for those who instead ask "What about the real world?"

    1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

      Re: What's wrong with this picture?

      f. Surveillance, spying, voyeurism. It's not an Amazon bot that followed Gertrude down the street, taking photos of her legs—it just looked like one.

      No, that was the Instagram bot

      It wasn't an Amazon bot that quartered the entire neighbourhood all morning hacking domestic WiFi.

      No, that was the Google bot

      It wasn't an Amazon bot that collected photos of people going in and out of Babylon-on-Thames.

      No, that was the Facebook bot

      On another subject, Robot Wars just gained corporate sponsorship so they can practice and develop defensive / offensive strategies for when their particular bot gets cornered in a dark alleyway by a bunch of tooled-up Ebay tat flinging bots.

    2. Flywheel Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: What's wrong with this picture?

      I have to mention this.. Hitchhiking Robot Is Decapitated And Left In A Ditch After Just Two Weeks

  6. hoola

    Why??

    All this rush for automated deliveries is for one reason only, more profit at the expense of jobs. We are rapidly approaching the old Victorian era of a small, very rich elite doing whatever they want at the expense of the majority. These people do not care about anything other than being the biggest and making the most money for themselves.

    This is then endorsed by the younger generation that want everything instantly, available to be ordered on an app at the cheapest possible price and bugger the consequences. The problem is that at the moment they are still in the honeymoon where they can still benefit from it.

    Once the point is reached where the only jobs left are the most menial where it is still cheaper to use human labour or an ever-decreasing number of skilled jobs, society falls apart. Unfortunately there appears to be an increasing number of people who are only interested in now, not the future and certainly not how it my impact their own life in 10 years time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why??

      I'm totally with you. Fuck progress. Those pesky Victorians.

      I want to make sure my chimney sweep, shoe shiner and chamber pot emptier can keep their dignified and comfortable jobs.

      While we're here...fuck fines for dogs shitting on footpaths. There's a perfectly good job wasted to progress.

      Anyone working in tech that cries about progress should not work in tech. Our jobs exist purely because of progress.

      There were no programmers, sysadmins or network engineers 100 years ago.

  7. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Self-Driving Car Factory

    A car factory that can drive itself down to the shops? Impressive.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK

    Seen people attempt to break into the Amazon lockers in the shopping centre. There are certain streets that you can't even drive cars down and ambulances have police cover.

    I had my Amazon delivery today - the driver had been out from 9AM today and must have had lots of deliveries before mine. No-one was in, so it was delivered to a neighbour about 5 doors down. That'll need to be some impressive AI to do that automatically? Are they rolling out ED-209 to do this?

    Please sign the proof of delivery. You have 20 seconds to comply..

  9. Maty

    Might work some places

    Yup, the amazon delivery bot will be in deep do-dos in some rough neighbourhoods. Mind you, human drivers are probably not too keen on those neighbourhoods either. (A truckload of deliveries is more valuable than a single delivery in a bot after all.) I'd imagine the bot has all-round vision being streamed back to HQ, so if something does go wrong, amazon knows exactly how it went wrong, and who the perp was.

    OTOH a lot of smaller US cities and most Canadian ones are remarkably safe places. Hereabouts, if you want the sort of goodies an amazon bot might deliver, you can probably walk into any garage along the street and help yourself (and God help you if you're caught - there's soooo many ways people can make your life a misery in a small town).

    In these or suburban communities with wide pavements, little traffic and almost no crime bots seem a reasonable idea. So yeah, downtown LA might not be practicable, but there's lots of places it can work.

  10. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    I bet the Amazon robot still delivers happily to your pitbull owner meth lab neighbour

  11. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Coat

    Ok, Google

    "Listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once"

    "Where is ze Fallen Madonna with ze Big Boobies by Van Klomp"

    icon: Michelle gets her coat

  12. SonOfDilbert
    Terminator

    Strike!

    I foresee strikes by delivery staff protesting about bots taking their jobs. Life is starting to increasingly mimic sci-fi.

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