A PURPLE BOT IS BORN
Five years ago Amazon unveiled what many thought would totally disrupt the last-mile delivery marketplace; the remote-controlled drone. Today there are 110,000 commercial drones operating in U.S. airspace, a number that will quadruple over the next four years. However, these mechanical marvels of technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), have not had the impact that was anticipated on the last-mile delivery market. According to Amazon, they have not given up on the use of drones to deliver packages in under 30 minutes, they are just moving more slowly.
Amazon is not alone in this space. United Parcel Service tested launching a drone from a delivery truck that was covering a rural route in Florida. DHL Express, the German delivery company, tested the use of drones to deliver medicine from Tanzania to an island in Lake Victoria. Frank Appel, the CEO of DHL’s parent company, Deutsche Post AG, said “over the next couple of years” drones will remain a niche vehicle and not widely used. He said a big obstacle is battery life. Analysts say it will take years for the Federal Aviation Administration to write all the rules to allow widespread drone deliveries.
Now there is a new last-mile delivery mechanism that is being launched. FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) announced a development in cutting-edge delivery solutions to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers — the FedEx SameDay Bot — an autonomous delivery device designed to help retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers.
With the bot, retailers will be able to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses on the same day. 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, demonstrating the opportunity for on-demand, hyper-local delivery.
“The FedEx SameDay Bot is an innovation designed to change the face of local delivery and help retailers efficiently address their customers’ rising expectations,” said Brie Carere, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx. “The bot represents a milestone in our ongoing mission to solve the complexities and expense of same-day, last-mile delivery for the growing e-commerce market in a manner that is safe and environmentally friendly.”
The FedEx bot is designed to travel on sidewalks and along roadsides, safely delivering smaller shipments to customers’ homes and businesses. Bot features include pedestrian-safe technology from the iBot, plus advanced technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras, allowing the zero-emission, battery-powered bot to be aware of its surroundings. These features are coupled with machine-learning algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path and allow the bot to follow road and safety rules. Proprietary technology makes the bot highly capable, allowing it to navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs, and even steps for an extraordinary door-to-door delivery experience.
FedEx plans to test the bot this summer in select markets, including Memphis, Tenn., pending final city approvals.