Spotted: Amazon robot maps sidewalks north of Seattle, laden with cameras and sensors

An Amazon sidewalk mapping robot being driven in Everett, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Tim Ellis)

While I was out on an ordinary drive through Everett, Wash., on Saturday morning, in between grabbing a donut for my daughter and a coffee for my wife, I spotted something interesting: An unmarked, six-wheeled robot being driven down the sidewalk on Broadway.

I immediately thought of Scout, Amazon’s package delivery robot that allegedly began testing in 2019 in an unnamed Snohomish County neighborhood, and rolled out Irvine, Calif., Atlanta, and Franklin, Tenn. earlier this year. Ever since the initial announcement, I’ve been keeping a close eye out for the robots, but to date I’ve neither seen them myself nor have I seen any evidence of a real-life sighting on social media.

When the robot turned down a side street in Everett’s Riverside neighborhood, I decided to follow it and stop to get a closer look. However, as I approached, I saw an array of cameras and sensors protruding from the top of the robot.

This was obviously some kind of mapping robot, not a delivery robot. It looked like a miniature version of Google’s Street View cars, and wasn’t running autonomously. There was clearly an operator following closely behind, driving the robot with a wireless Xbox 360 controller.

The operator of the robot followed behind, using an Xbox 360 controller to direct the robot. (GeekWire Photo / Tim Ellis)

When I asked the operator about the purpose of the robot and who they were with, they were friendly, but offered only very vague responses. They said they were doing “logistics” and “mapping,” but would not name the company they were working for. When I commented about the Xbox 360 controller they were using to pilot the robot, they held it close to their chest, as if to hide it. Their nearby van had no company markings.

This unmarked van was the base of operations for the two operators running the sidewalk mapping robots. (GeekWire photo / Tim Ellis)

All of this intrigue only made me more curious, so I took a closer look at the robot while doing my best to heed the operator’s insistence that I “keep a distance.” This more in-depth inspection revealed something I had missed on my initial take: a small serial number sticker on the back that confirmed my original suspicion of the device’s origin.

Close-up of the label on the Amazon sidewalk mapping robot in Everett, WA
The only Amazon markings on the robot were on a small serial number label on the back. We’ve masked the number here as a precaution. (GeekWire Photo / Tim Ellis)

Presumably whatever “mapping” this robot is doing in Everett is in preparation for rolling out the actual Scout robots to the neighborhood. So, while it’s not Scout, I guess it’s more of a Scout-scout.

The robot is equipped with an array of sensors and cameras to map and photograph the sidewalks. (GeekWire Photo / Tim Ellis)

We reached out to Amazon for comment on this story and will update it if we hear back from them.

Source link