Amazon has quietly formed a team to explore how it can best use driverless technology, the Wall Street Journal first reported Monday.
The 12-person team, formed over a year ago, isn’t building self-driving vehicles but is exploring how the tech can be used to improve package delivery, according to the report.
An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard Amazon could make a play in the autonomous driving sector.
In January, Amazon was approved for a patent for a “roadway management system” that helps self-driving vehicles find the best lanes for their driving needs, factoring in things like speed and traffic flow. The Seattle-based tech giant currently owns a fleet of 4,000 semi-trucks.
In general, Amazon has been investing heavily in expanding its transportation network. The company is spending $US1.49 billion on its own air cargo hub in northern Kentucky.
Amazon began leasing planes in 2016 to decrease its reliance on UPS and FedEx. It currently has 16 Boeing 767 planes in use and plans to increase that number to 40 in the next few years. The company has also agreed to lease 20 cargo planes from Atlas Air Worldwide.
The world’s largest online retailer has also dipped its toe in the $US350 billion freight shipping industry. Amazon China is registered as a freight forwarding provider, allowing it to arrange shipments between the US and merchants in China.
Amazon plans to use a drone delivery service, called Prime Air, by 2018, though that will largely depend on the regulatory environment.
Analysts believe Amazon ultimately plans to build its own shipping network so it can completely bypass partners like UPS and FedEx.
Deutsche Bank released a report in June last year predicting that Amazon will have a shipping operation that consists of self-driving trucks and drones.
Baird Equity Research’s Colin Sebastian also believes Amazon’s ultimate goal is to offer transportation and logistics services to third parties.
“While we understand the scepticism surrounding the potential of third-party logistics, precedent suggests Amazon has larger ambitions beyond the ATSG and Atlas Air announcements,” Sebastian wrote in a 2016 note. “Moreover, we estimate a $US400 billion+ market opportunity for Amazon in delivery, freight forwarding, and contract logistics, of which even a small slice could prove material for Amazon.”
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