Amazon’s 'adora-bots' are now making deliveries

The first wave of the retailer's anticipated automated delivery fleet hits the sidewalks.

Amazon’s 'adora-bots' are now making deliveries
Image source: Amazon
  • After testing near company HQ, delivery robots are rolling up to random customers' homes in Irvine, CA.
  • The cute little carriers — dubbed "adora-bots" — are already adept at navigating people, pets, and other tricky obstacles.
  • These may be the droids the shipping industry seeks.

If you happen to be walking down a quiet sidewalk in Irvine, California, don't be too surprised to encounter a little blue robot with "Prime" — as in "Amazon Prime" — printed on its side. It's an Amazon Scout robot.

There are currently a "small number" of the all-electric, six-wheeled beasties rolling around town. They're accompanied for now by human Amazon Scout Ambassadors keeping an eye on the bots and answering customers' inevitable questions.

These "adora-bots," Amazon's term, are the online retailer's first foray into real-world deployment of a robotic delivery system. Depending on how effective they are — and how Amazon customers perceive them — these little autonomous droids could represent the leading edge of nationwide robotic delivery. At least in places with sidewalks.

Not their first rodeo

Does the Scout beep when it arrives at its destination? Does it bleep or bloop?

Amazon Scouts were developed in the company's Seattle labs, and first tested near Amazon's headquarters beginning in January 2019. Six of them have been delivering packages in Washington's Snohomish County in daylight hours and all sorts of weather. Being similar in size to largish rolling ice-chests, they're capable of delivering any package fits.

Amazon reports that the Scouts have been making friends along the way — they cite "Winter the cat and the excitable Irish terrier Mickey" in Washington. While the robots need to be able to cross streets and avoid moving vehicles, safely getting around on sidewalks represents an even more difficult technological challenge. Though streets are fairly ordered spaces with lanes and rules, any given sidewalk can be the Wild West, with unpredictable humans — including fast-moving children — and animals, as well as random obstacles such as garbage cans and recycling bins, moving skateboards, and so on. So far, there haven't been any major problems, which is impressive.

A Scout comes to call

Bleep, bloop! Coming through! Image source: Amazon

For Irvine's test program, Amazon is handing out delivery assignments on a random basis, regardless of the delivery option a customer selects at purchase. A big question Amazon's trying to answer is how well the public will respond to Scouts. Right now, encountering a Scout at the end of one's door must seem odd — in Amazon's video, even the actor seems a little unsure about whether she should say "thank you" or something else as she retrieves her package.

It's likely that we'll get used to seeing automated delivery vehicles rolling and buzzing around in time, and that's part of what Amazon is keeping their human eyes on.

That tricky last mile

No matter how streamlined the process of shuttling a package from one city to another has become, there's still the bottleneck at the end of the trip: A driver exiting their truck on foot and manually carrying a package to a door, and then walking back to the truck. In an industry where every second and penny counts, this last-mile segment has been a source of industry frustration.

Delivery bots that run continuously in their routes — continuously shuttling goods without lapses — could provide the solution, assuming the technology is reliable, cost-effective, and customers grow accustomed to dealing with droids. The popularity of automated assistants such as Alexa, Siri, and Cortana suggests consumers are moving in that direction. As far as the economic equation goes, these are early days, with lots of research and development costs to be absorbed as the technological and human interaction bugs are sorted out.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Study helps explain why motivation to learn declines with age

Research suggests that aging affects a brain circuit critical for learning and decision-making.

Photo by Reinhart Julian on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things or engage in everyday activities. In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

Keep reading Show less

End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

Scientists discover why fish evolved limbs and left water

Researchers find a key clue to the evolution of bony fish and tetrapods.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast