Will FedEx’s robots help retailers solve the last-mile delivery challenge?
One of the biggest names in last-mile delivery is launching a pilot using robots to get products from select partner retailers to the customer’s door.
FedEx announced that it is planning to test home delivery robots with Walmart and Pizza Hut in some cities this summer, according to Reuters. The shipping company hopes to determine if there is enough value in the concept to launch larger scale robot delivery as part of its SameDay service, currently available in around 1,900 cities.
FedEx SameDay Bot from FedEx on Vimeo.
The robots FedEx plans to test look like coolers on wheels and can reach a top speed of 10 miles per hour. The initial tests, once the shipping company gets approval from test cities, will occur between FedEx store locations. The robots are being created in partnership with DEKA Development & Research Corp, a tech company founded by the inventor of the Segway.
FedEx is announcing the partnership at a time when e-commerce customers are demanding ever quicker delivery and when startups, brands, retailers and delivery services have all been looking for a way to streamline the last mile of delivery with autonomous vehicles.
In fact, San Francisco, a hot spot for robotics startups, has seen years of back and forth legislation regarding the conditions under which delivery robot prototypes should be allowed to roll on city streets.
Comparably slow, small delivery robots like the one FedEx plans to test are not the only kind of driverless delivery vehicle being piloted in the industry.
Last year, for instance, Kroger announced that it would a run a grocery delivery pilot using driverless cars, making it the largest supermarket to launch such an initiative.
And FedEx’s direct competitor, UPS, as well as tech titans Amazon and Google have all been devoting resources and research to last-mile delivery via flying drone.
But with all forms of autonomous vehicles, concerns continue with regard to consumer privacy and the personal safety of citizens.
- FedEx partners with Walmart, Pizza Hut to test last-mile delivery robot – Reuters
- San Francisco limits robots on its sidewalks – RetailWire
- Can UPS fly past Amazon in drone delivery? – RetailWire
- Kroger to delivery groceries using driverless cars – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will FedEx successfully push robot delivery forward in a way that other players haven’t because of the scale if its operations? Is it worthwhile for shippers to pursue autonomous last-mile solutions?
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12 Comments on "Will FedEx’s robots help retailers solve the last-mile delivery challenge?"
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Founder, CEO & Author, HeadCount Corporation
FedEx has the most to gain and the most to lose, and so their focus on the initiative is understandable. The critical issue that will prevent this from happening at scale anytime soon is getting approval from cites and other relevant government agencies. This isn’t merely about cutting some red tape – there are legitimate concerns about public safety that need to be considered and that have hardly yet been considered. FedEx is in the delivering business and so they should be leading the charge in autonomous delivery, but there are plenty of roadblocks yet to overcome.
President, Integrated Marketing Solutions
The race for the last mile will be won by slow droids over flying drones. The challenge for last mile is that the inventory and the delivery vehicle have to be in close proximity to the customer. Droids or driverless cars will be most efficient in getting to all kinds of docking points, whether they be a mini-warehouse or store. At the end of the day, the customer doesn’t care if the droid only goes five miles per hour, they just care about reliable delivery on time. On-time daily delivery will be won not by the droid vehicle, but by the companies like FedEx who have the best infrastructure, logistics and AI.
Managing Director, GlobalData
Last mile delivery is the weak spot in many supply chains, mainly because it is expensive and consumers don’t want to bear the cost of it. As such, automation makes sense. Execution, however, is another matter. I’m interested to see how this trial goes as I can foresee many potential issues from public safety to regulatory hurdles to robots getting damaged. All that said, it’s right and necessary for FedEx to test this out.
Vice President of Marketing, OrderDynamics
Great to see FedEx in the game. With the last mile, robotic delivery needs some of the big boys and girls to come to the table. I love what Pepsico was trying to do (same thing) — but they are just not the right company to pull it off (not their focal area).
Will it be successful? It will take time. They cannot expect it to be an overnight success. There will be hiccups. I’m hoping that FedEx is in it for the long haul. If they are, then they can make it a success. Success is not easy in the last mile. Nor is it overnight (unlike the deliveries).
Is it worthwhile — well, it is inevitable. It’s important that these experiments and projects are underway. Otherwise, if it does take off and they are not prepared … well you know.
EVP Thought Leadership, Marketing, WD Partners
We know what’s happening globally, right? Humans are attacking robots everywhere: #backlash. Just like jokes about the deceased at a funeral; too soon, man, too soon.
Senior Vice President Marketing, PDI
In addition to helping our robot overlords make their path to domination, I’m interested in seeing how they make their way up steep SF hills.
Robotic innovation is happening fast, but last year, the driver-less car ran over a human.
Too soon, indeed.
Managing Director, StoreStream Metrics, LLC
Home delivery has become both a consumer expectation and necessity in the retail and shopping landscape. While it makes sense that delivery and logistics service companies like FedEx explore and experiment with robotics today, it is unlikely that we’ll be experiencing this at any scale any time soon. There are a myriad of mechanical, operational, logistical, and regulatory challenges to overcome and address. Not to mention the risk and liability to people and property obstacles. The more I list the more the timeline moves out to many years before this becomes meaningful. For now, it makes for good public relations and a photo op.
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
FedEx, as well as UPS, seem like the most logical companies to solve the last mile delivery problem. Robots may eventually be the answer to this problem, however, it will likely be a long time before we see delivery robots as a ubiquitous delivery method. There are a lot of challenges to solve for: traffic, pedestrians, vandalism, gates at homes, gated communities, and the list goes on.
Maybe home delivery shouldn’t be free. Maybe locker delivery should be free and if people want the ultimate convenience of home delivery (which costs more), consumers should pay extra for this expensive perk. I know this isn’t a concept that consumers would embrace, but it makes sense to me.
CFO, Weisner Steel
I’ll came right out and say it. Based on my experience with these little guys (gals?) I didn’t look too closely, I don’t see them going anywhere soon (no pun intended).
But FedEx loses little in trying this. Unlike JCP, FedEx CAN afford distractions, so at worst this will have been an experiment; at best, I will have been proven wrong.
CEO, President- American Retail Consultants
This is a prime example of a solution looking for a problem. Slow, cumbersome robots are not the answer to the last-mile delivery challenge. They cannot outperform traditional delivery vehicles (bike/car/person) with a person while maintaining superior customer service, timeliness, and heightened customer response to non-traditional issues (blocked entry ways, pets, weather, alternative delivery locations, etc.) This isn’t a scalar problem, but instead a perspective that should be addressed. In other words, making lots of solutions will not solve this problem, but instead using a different approach might.
Senior Vice President Marketing, PDI
Bingo, Kai. In London, more than 65% of package deliveries are done via kiosk/locker. It’s super-hot segment in the IoT space. Instead of figuring out how to economically and efficiently deliver in the last-mile, do what the post office figured out in the mid-90’s — centralize delivery points and make people come to you (within reach to them). In-store kiosks also drive footfall and increase basket-rates. Why has Amazon put lockers in Whole Foods? Yes they own the real estate, but they’re already seeing foot traffic and basket rate increases. Every move Bezos makes is related to driving profit. Just leverage Amazon’s best practice.
This said, this approach doesn’t necessarily address the needs of those in a distributed or rural area. But … 10mph robots aren’t the answer there, either.
Contributor, The Motley Fool
I don’t see self-driving robots as the future of last-mile delivery, or at least not everywhere. It may work in some suburban communities, but it’s not going to be practical in an urban area where they will more likely be subject to theft and vandalism than in making it to their destination.
Undoubtedly there’s a use for them, but in real-world applications where people are already routinely stealing packages off of porches, unattended delivery robots are screaming for criminals to mess with them.