Amazon has quietly pulled together a team to home in on autonomous vehicle technology and how to leverage it for the online retail giant’s needs, potentially aiding its quest for quick delivery, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The team consists of about a dozen employees who focus more broadly on how Amazon can deliver its own products more quickly but who aren’t necessarily building self-driving vehicles, people familiar with the matter told The Journal. The team formed over a year ago.
The report said Amazon is interested in autonomous trucking as it anticipates becoming its own transportation system for deliveries and potentially for other companies at levels that take on UPS and FedEx.
Amazon consistently has been edging into the automotive space.
It launched Amazon Vehicles, a vehicle-research portal, in August; it has long partnered with major aftermarket suppliers to deliver products; and its voice-activated virtual assistant, Alexa, has made its way into connectivity systems in Ford, BMW, Hyundai-Genesis and Volkswagen vehicles.
VW is directly integrating Alexa into a vehicle infotainment system, as opposed to Alexa being connected through a smartphone.
But the industry has warded off fear of Amazon by noting it is primarily a research tool, using Amazon Vehicles as an example of a site that helps consumers research vehicles but can’t connect interested buyers to nearby dealerships.
One major component holding Amazon back, specifically in the lucrative aftermarket parts space, is its inability to give customers what they need immediately. Amazon has been working to challenge that, however, with same-day delivery options. It also introduced its delivery drones concept in 2013.
An autonomous fleet of delivery trucks could push Amazon further ahead. In January, Amazon won a patent for a network that helps autonomous vehicles adjust in changing driving environments, such as reversible lanes, technology site Recode originally reported. The network will help the vehicles navigate through changing traffic flow, which could come into play for a self-driving delivery vehicle crossing into unfamiliar territory across straight lines.