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Amazon may use driverless cars to help expedite deliveries. Elizabeth Keatinge (@elizkeatinge) has more.
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SAN FRANCISCO — Amazon has a team studying the ramifications of self-driving car technology on its business, although at present the online retailing giant does not have plans to build a fleet of autonomous delivery vehicles.

The team consists of a dozen employees and was formed more than a year ago, according to a Wall Street Journalreport Monday citing individuals briefed on the matter. The group amounts to an in-house think tank charged with studying how a range of fast-paced developments in the self-driving field can be applied to its vast shipping needs.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CEO Jeff Bezos, who also runs rocket company Blue Origin, has been making efforts to ensure that Amazon has a bigger hand in how goods are delivered to consumers. It has been particularly aggressive in testing drone delivery, and even appears to be exploring options in the cargo shipping arena.

A year ago, the e-commerce company’s Chinese affiliate, Amazon China, registered with the U.S. Federal Maritime Commission to become a licensed ocean freight forwarder.

Closer to home, a variety of companies have been exploring self-driving truck technology, which could intrigue Amazon were it to get into the long-haul trucking business.

Last fall, Uber-owned Otto successfully drove a semi-tractor pulling a shipment of beer along a Colorado highway. (Otto’s founder, former Google car employee Anthony Levandowski, is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit claiming he stole technology from Google before starting Otto.)

Self-driving cars would be a boon to Amazon because they could be more cost effective and flexible.

“You can run an autonomous vehicle 24 hours a day, whereas regular drivers are limited to ten per day,” says John Haber, CEO of Spend Management, a supply chain and logistics consulting company in Atlanta.

Haber is not surprised that Amazon isn’t planning to build it themselves but instead partner with other companies.

“That’s Amazon’s style. They see what works, then take out the middle man,” he says.

For example, Amazon started doing some of its same day deliveries with couriers, then once it had very detailed information about how they works it built out its own network “and they’re pulling volume back from the couriers,” Haber said.

In terms of self-driving cars, he expects that Amazon will see ho they work “and if it looks good long term, they’ll go back in and do it on their own.”

Amazon’s use of self-driving technology could go well beyond so-called last-mile delivery to consumers. The company’s vast network of warehouses also could leverage autonomous vehicles to move items off shelves and into traditional vehicles.

The Journal report says that last week Amazon hosted an event called the “Radical Transportation Salon.” The meeting was organized H.B. Siegel, whose responsibilities at Amazon include new ideas, and in part featured experts on autonomous technology.

Contributing: Elizabeth Weise

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.