Has FedEx finally solved the riddle of robot delivery with its SameDay Bot? Ian Kerr (Postal Hub Podcast) and Marek Różyki (Last Mile Experts) think FedEx has come closer than anyone else so far. They discuss what’s so great about this new autonomous delivery robot
FedEx has launched a robotic delivery vehicle called the SameDay Bot, which will allow retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and send them directly to the consignee’s home or office that very same day.
FedEx found that on average, over 60% of sellers’ customers live within three miles of a retail location, creating the opportunity for an on-demand, robot powered, local delivery service.
Unlike some other offerings, the SameDay Bot can travel on pavements, roadside ramps and even steps, to deliver small-ish parcels to the customers’ door, thus fully enabling the last mile.
FedEx plans to further develop the autonomous ground vehicle (AGV) to meet safety standards and specific customer needs before testing it this summer in a ‘live’ urban environment.
So is this really something new?
We have already written extensively about Cleveron and Starship’s AGV offerings, but what we like about this initiative is that it has come from America (where, other than at Amazon, innovation in the B2C last mile hasn’t been so significant), and more importantly, it seems to be the first AGV really capable of delivering to the doorstep, at least for single family dwellings.
It’s also interesting that it’s one of the carriers taking the initiative here, albeit in partnership with DEKA Research & Development Corporation. The technology is based on a mobility platform for disabled people, so it has been extensively tested in real-world conditions.
Another interesting aspect of FedEx’s approach to AGV delivery is that they correctly see that, given the limited capacity of the Bot, it will work best with sameday, point-to-point type deliveries.
Amazon automating the last mile
Of course, Amazon hasn’t been idle. It has launched its own AGV, called ‘Scout’, and applied for a patent for a home-based AGV that will travel from the consumer’s doorstep to a delivery truck in the street to collect customer orders.
Scout started doing deliveries in January, and resembles a Starship AGV in looks and function.
The home-based AGV is an interesting concept, leaving the customer’s property to fetch parcels from the delivery truck. It’s still only a patent, and it will need to be able to climb steps, or maybe even open doors, to be truly functional and effective.
Has FedEx eliminated the downsides of other AGVs?
The answer has to be no, not all of them. While the SameDay Bot appears to have groundbreaking terrain movement capabilities, it is still slow (about 10mph [16km/h]) and can frustrate drivers if on the road.
Conversely, when on the pavement, despite its sense-and-avoid technology, it may still have issues on crowded pavements… or be seen as a fun target for vandals or thieves.
Finally, the Bot requires the consignee to be waiting for it – just like a human courier does. So far, only Cleveron’s AGV has (partially) dealt with this issue. Read more on this here.
Do we like it?
Our answer has to be (forgive the Americanism) “Hell yes!” for the reasons noted above and the fact that the SameDay Bot really does cover the whole last mile to the doorstep. Scout, while already doing deliveries as part of a limited trial, doesn’t seem to be an advance in any way over existing AGV technology.
Looking at the various initiatives in this space, our view is that it is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ AGV’s will be used to support last-mile delivery – and the more labor costs go up, the sooner this time will arrive. Let’s see who ends up the leader in the race to develop the best robotic courier, but we can safely say that the winner will be the customer!
Ian Kerr is the founder and host of the Postal Hub Podcast, the weekly podcast for the postal and delivery sectors.
Marek Różycki is managing partner at Last Mile Experts, specializing in CEP and e-commerce last-mile advisory.