retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Articleby Kevin Coupe

On Friday, April 1, as has been my customer on that date every year since launching MNB, the lead story here was one that was fiction, not fact ... in this case about a decision reached by Amazon to launch a fleet of TruckBots that would be self-driving delivery vehicles equipped with artificial intelligence-infused robots capable of spewing obscenities and giving other drivers the finger when appropriate on major city streets.

It was enormously gratifying that so many people were taken in by the story until they reached the sentence about robots flipping the bird. I suppose that's because this was fiction that was specifically written to teeter on the edge of credibility. In fact I got several emails from MNB readers castigating Amazon for costing good American workers their jobs with this new technological advancement; I felt compelled to write each of them directly and tell them to calm down, that they should check the calendar.

(I also got emails from folks suggesting that I had provided a glimpse into an Amazon strategic initiative in advance of the company's announcement of same, and that I might be looking at subpoenas as they tried to figure out where I get my information. I doubt that, and can only reassure you that I made it all up.)

What I did not know when I wrote the piece, was that the Washington Post had done a piece just recently about robot delivery technology ... in which it described a "little white device, which looks like an ice chest rolling on six wagon wheels," as being able to "ply sidewalks along with pedestrians to make local deliveries of groceries or small packages."

These robots, the Washington Post story said, "began rolling autonomously last month through parts of London and Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, using proprietary digital maps and sophisticated software. They can also be guided over the web by an operator if they get stumped on their way. To make delivery cheap — from $1 to $3 dollars a trip, hopefully dropping to under $1, company executives said — engineers are trying to keep the hardware basic." (Though one of the problems is that sidewalks also can be pretty basic, and need to be flattened and repaired so that the robots can effectively navigate them ... begging the question of why they'd be repaired for robots and not humans.)

You can watch a video about the delivery robots above.

But beyond the fact that my original piece got closer to actual fact than even I knew, I'd like to suggest that there is something else about the Washington Post story that makes this an Eye-Opener.

Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, also owns the Washington Post. Coincidence?

I think not.

KC's View: