Amazon (AMZN) has reportedly formed a team that's dedicated to developing self-driving technologies well beyond the realm of cars, according to the Wall Street Journal

At least 12 employees were assigned to the group more than a year ago to examine how driverless vehicles could help Amazon deliver packages more quickly, the Journal reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. This means that the e-commerce giant is unlikely to build its own fleet of self-driving cars; rather, the team looks at how unmanned trucks, forklifts and drones can be used to streamline what is considered to be one of the most crucial steps in Amazon's delivery supply chain: last mile delivery. 

Last mile delivery is the process of delivering packages from a transportation hub to a final destination that's usually a residence. Amazon has launched a number of services to make last mile delivery operate more efficiently, such as Prime two-day shipping, Prime Now (which provides one- and two-hour delivery) and, soon, Prime delivery via unmanned drones. The last mile phase is one of the most expensive steps of delivery and self-driving vehicles could pare some of costs, said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. During the last mile delivery phase, the vehicle has to make single-package trips to every destination, while in earlier stages, multiple packages can be delivered together by sea, air or land, Dawson noted.

By automating last mile logistics, Amazon would also be stepping up its competition with major delivery giants such as UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX) -- a market that experts have long predicted Amazon could go after in the coming years. A large chunk of UPS, USPS and FedEx's business comes from delivering Amazon packages, so the possibility serves as a significant threat, said Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in Silicon Valley and author of "The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future."

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