Image credit: FedEx
As automated transportation solutions gain steam, integrators are tapping into new ways to address the challenge of getting products, essentials, and food from a hub to the doorstep. Often referred to as “last mile” solutions, pilot programs are turning to IoT and robotics for automated front-door delivery.
Magnifying the need for delivery automation is the desire of shoppers to order safely from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has caused a historic surge in ecommerce, which has put pressure on delivery logistics operations. Total U.S. online sales reached $73.2 billion in June, up 76.2 percent compared with $41.5 billion a year earlier.
As online buying surges and the fall holiday shopping season nears, retailers are promising faster product delivery options, including premium same-day service. Walmart rolled out its same-day delivery service, called Walmart+, in September. The new membership-based program promised more than 160,000 items would be available for same-day delivery with no per-delivery fee on orders totaling $35 or more.
For faster grocery delivery, Walmart is working with San Francisco-based Nuro robotics to test autonomous carts. Walmart, along with Amazon, Alphabet, and UPS, are all piloting and testing drone delivery concepts.
Robotic Deliveries on the Rise
Several of the fast delivery options include automated robots, which can provide a safer, contactless delivery alternative. While delivery bots that run on sidewalks or bike lanes are nowhere near being in widespread use, they are starting to appear more regularly in residential neighborhoods. Autonomous robot delivery providers Nuro and Starship are using their intelligent bots to make food deliveries in Sacramento, CA, and Mountain View, CA, and other locations. Starship reports in Forbes that its deliveries in some areas have “exploded” during the pandemic.
Another provider, Kiwibot, has also been ramping up usage of its store-to-door delivery robots during the pandemic. Kiwibots, which are similar in size and functionality to Starship’s robots, are delivering meals, antibacterial gels, face masks, and other necessary supplies in Berkeley, CA, and in Denver. Kiwibot delivery vehicles use technology built by San Francisco-based developer Freedom Robotics. It has built an intelligent software infrastructure that allows Kiwibot and other hardware makers to build, operate, and scale robotic fleets, including those designed for residential delivery.
Navigating the Neighborhood: FedEx SameDay Bot
One major player in the last-mile bot business is FedEx Corp, which has an autonomous delivery model in development and testing, the FedEx SameDay Bot. Its intelligent bot technology is being developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp.
Announced in 2019, FedEx describes its robot as an autonomous device designed to help retailers offer same-day delivery service to their customers. With the FedEx Bot, retailers will be able to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses within a specified delivery window. The bot can carry a variety of different cargo, including hot or cold food items.
Image credit: FedEx
FedEx is collaborating with companies such as AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to help assess retailers’ autonomous delivery needs. On average, more than 60 percent of merchants’ customers live within three miles of a store location, according to FedEx. This demonstrates the opportunity and need for an on-demand, hyper-local delivery model.
The FedEx bot is designed to move along sidewalks and roadsides, delivering smaller shipments to customers’ homes and businesses. The Bot’s portfolio of technology includes:
- Pedestrian-safe technology from the iBot;
- Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology and multiple cameras, which allow the battery-powered bot to be aware of its surroundings;
- Machine learning-based algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles and allow the bot to follow road and safety rules;
- Proprietary technology that allows the bot to navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs, and steps for door-to-door capabilities.
- FedEx is testing its SameDay bot in select markets, including Memphis, TN.
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