Home Delivery Robots: Last Mile Gamechangers
Robots continue to be a larger part of global supply chains. When it comes to deploying robots, warehouse technology is more established, as the use of robots within warehouses is set to grow significantly. Warehouse labor shortages will continue to be the main growth driver for autonomous mobile robots. But there are other use cases where autonomous mobile robots are gaining traction. Namely, we are entering the age of home delivery robots.
One of the most difficult and expensive aspects of the supply chain is last mile and home delivery. However, from a customer experience standpoint, it is also the most memorable and possibly important. Autonomous last mile deliveries are part of the answer to the e-commerce boom that we are experiencing. However, there are two main technologies that fall into autonomous or robotic last mile deliveries.
The first type is the use of autonomous mobile robots to make last mile deliveries. Many companies have begun testing autonomous delivery bots in cities and on college campuses. For many of these companies, however, the term “autonomous” may be a little bit misleading. In fact, throughout the delivery process, there is a team of human minders that are tracking the vehicle every step of the way. While the behind-the-scene workers mostly monitor the robot, if the bot runs into trouble, the human worker can use a remote control to drive or troubleshoot the vehicle. And if the robot becomes stuck or unable to make the delivery, these workers will come to the rescue to make the delivery themselves.
Autonomous technology has improved, and the interest is growing. As a result, autonomous vehicles have also been tested for home delivery. In this situation, an autonomous vehicle brings a package to a customer’s house, whereupon the customer enters a code and retrieves the package from a cargo hold. Ford has run multiple pilots to gage customer perception and acceptance of autonomous vehicles as a delivery mechanism. But this article will focus on the home delivery robots.
Seven Home Delivery Robots to Know
The market for home delivery robots is heating up. Over the last two years, the Covid pandemic has pushed e-commerce sales to levels that would not have been believed. This push for home deliveries helped open the door (or wallets of investors) for home delivery robots. Over the last two years, investors have pumped more than $8 billion into autonomous delivery companies. This includes autonomous cars and drones, but it is a glimpse into what the future holds. When it comes to home delivery robots, there are a number of key players that have proven they can get the job done. Here is a closer look at Starship Technologies, Nuro, FedEx Roxo, Amazon Scout, Udelv, Kiwibot, and Coco.
Starship Technologies was launched in 2014 by Skype co-founders Ahit Heinla and Janus Friis. To date, the San Francisco-based company has done more than 3 million autonomous deliveries around the world. A big part of what the company has done is food delivery on college campuses. The robots are fully autonomous, with monitoring technology in place, and can carry payloads of up to 20 pounds and can travel up to 4 miles per hour. Parcels, groceries, and food are directly delivered from stores, at the time that the customer requests via a mobile app. Once ordered the robots’ entire journey and location can be monitored on a smartphone.
Nuro, which was founded in 2016, develops autonomous delivery vehicles, and was the first company to receive an autonomous exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since its vehicles are designed to carry goods instead of humans. The company’s home delivery robots can carry payloads of 500 pounds, with heating and cooling capabilities, and customizable compartments. Nuro has partnered with Dominos, Kroger, Walmart, Chipotle, FedEx, and 7-Eleven and has been piloting its technology in Texas, Arizona, and California.
FedEx has also been testing autonomous robotic deliveries, with the expansion of pilots for its Roxo robot. The company, which developed its home delivery robots to be “same-day delivery bots” has expanded pilots throughout Texas. Roxo weighs about 450 pounds and stands 5.5 feet tall. The wheeled vehicle can hold up to 100 pounds and is designed to travel along the side of roads or sidewalks. Sensors on Roxo allow it to detect objects and movement from up to 150 feet away.
While Amazon’s drone delivery team remains in limbo, its home delivery robots team is getting more attention. The company launched its first sidewalk delivery robot named Scout in January 2019, and has been ramping up its efforts to get Scout into a neighborhood near you. The company is opening a facility in Helsinki dedicated to testing and refining Scout. Amazon Scout has already performed well in its tests in California and Washington. The fully electric sidewalk robot has six wheels and is the size of a small cooler.
At CES 2022, Udelv unveiled its self-driving eclectic delivery vehicle, the Transporter. Udelv’s delivery bot is a multi-stop electric delivery vehicle which features a self-contained, swappable modular cargo pod called the uPod. It can carry up to 2,000 pounds of goods, make up to 80 stops per cycle at highway speeds, cover ranges between 160 and 300 miles per run depending on the battery pack option and be operated by Udelv’s mobile apps to schedule, deliver, track, and retrieve packages. Founded in 2017 in Burlingame, CA, Udelv said it has completed more than 20,000 package deliveries.
Kiwibot launched its first fleet of mobile delivery robots in 2017 at the University of California’s Berkley campus. Over the past five years, the company has expanded its footprint and its home delivery robots have made more than 200,000 deliveries in the cities of San Jose, Santa Monica, Denver, and Dallas, as well as Taipei, Taiwan, and Medellin, Columbia. While the company has expanded its partnership with Sodexo to have its robots deployed at more than 50 college campuses, it has also partnered with Chick-fil-A to help launch its next iteration of delivery robots.
Cyan Robotics, which operates under the name Coco, is bringing 15-minute restaurant delivery to the home delivery robots space. Customers can place an order at a restaurant, and Coco’s robot will be driven by a trained “pilot” to the restaurant to pick up the order. From there, the restaurant loads the order into the delivery bot, which then makes its way to the customer’s house. At that point, the customer can retrieve their order from the locked bot, to ensure it has not been tampered with. According to the company, delivery timeframes are 15 minutes or less.