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It seems like every big name in tech is reportedly working on driverless car technology: Google, Apple, Uber. Retail juggernaut Amazon appears to be no exception. While the Seattle-based company doesn’t plan to develop its own autonomous vehicles, it is reportedly working on ways to use this burgeoning technology.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Amazon employs a small team dedicated to the driverless vehicle space. This roughly 12-person group isn’t working on building a fleet of Amazon-branded cars, though. Instead, it’s figuring out how Amazon could use driverless technology within its existing (and future) work flows. While the details of what this could entail are still vague, the implication for Amazon subscribers is clear: autonomous vehicles could help Amazon deliver your late night Amazon Prime impulse buys even faster.
There are a few ways Amazon could do this. The company could utilize self-piloted drones for small, same-day deliveries. (Amazon has already invested heavily in drone technology in recent years. And, in fact, it has begun testing drone deliveries in the U.K. and the U.S.) Amazon could also make its factories, already notoriously automated, even more efficient with equipment such as self-driving forklifts. Looking further into the future, Amazon also developed a self-driving highway network with reversible lanes. The company could use something like this once automated delivery trucks start hitting roadways in earnest.
While these advances could help Amazon deliver packages to your doorstep more quickly, they could also help Amazon save on costs. If trucks are driving trade routes autonomously, you don’t need error-prone, sleep-requiring humans in that equation.
It is curious that Amazon, according to the Wall Street Journal, has no ambitions to develop its own in-house driverless car tech. However, with the number of automakers already working on this area, it’s likely that Amazon could forge a profitable partnership without needing to reinvent the (steering) wheel.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.