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Last-mile and rise of on-demand autonomous delivery


Since first visiting a Chinese robotics exhibition a few years back, I have been accompanying more closely developments in IoT, autonomous vehicles, AI, and other technological building blocks for the evolving concept of digital supply networks. In that first visit to the East, I became impressed with the vibrant presence of start-ups and experiments in the field. At the national level, I noticed the focused investment in technology as a means to springboard economic progress and caught up with developed nations in the West. I shared my first impressions on two postings “The end of the world as we know it: artificial intelligence and economic transformation” and “The rise of the machines: tech revolution in the East and global transformation.” I have since enjoyed reflecting on what we see on trade shows each year to identify patterns that can provide a glimpse of what is to come and connect the dots.

Source: PepsiCo

Among the many exciting technologies featured at Consumer Electronics Show 2019 were the delivery robots and drones. PepsiCo and Robby technologies showed Snackbot. The Snackbots carry snacks and beverages from PepsiCo’s Hello Goodness portfolio. The company is rolling out a fleet of snack-carrying robots on the University of the Pacific’s campus in California. The idea is that students can place their orders on the iOS app and have them delivered to selected locations on campus. PepsiCo’s Snackbot seems to be the first autonomous robot developed by a consumer products company that is providing products in the U.S.

Source: Continental

Continental displayed their package delivery concept during the show, which consists of robot-taxis driving canine-inspired robots that autonomously bring deliveries right to customer’s doorstep. Continental proposes to provide a seamless mobility chain, comprised of a driverless vehicle and a delivery robot to deliver packages to the customers. The idea is to eliminate the need even to go out and meet the van, as the delivery robot-dogs can leave the trailer and navigate sidewalks, walk up front porch steps, go right to the door, and even ring doorbells.

The presence of delivery robots and drones at the CES 2019 highlights the advances and continued investments in research and development on autonomous vehicles for last-mile logistics. It has been fascinating to see the innovative solutions many companies and start-ups are developing and experimenting for delivery in suburban and urban areas. The PepsiCo and Continental experiments raised my curiosity about what else is brewing out there in this space. Well, there is quite a bit! We can loosely organize them into "on-demand package delivery" and "food and autonomous grocery delivery."

Source: Fedex

On the on-demand package delivery side of things, these past few days, we had the announcement of the Fedex Sameday Bot. The idea is that retailers will be able to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. FedEx is collaborating with companies such as AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart to help assess retailers’ autonomous same-day and last-mile delivery needs. The bot is supposed to travel on sidewalks and along roadsides and deliver smaller shipments. It includes pedestrian-safe technology and advanced technology such as lidar and multiple cameras. The bot will also have machine-learning algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plotting safe paths and allowing the bot to follow road and safety rules.

Source: Amazon

Is it going to work on the crowded and sometimes messy streets? The tests will soon tell us what further developments will come next. Meanwhile, Inc. has begun field-testing a compact, self- driving delivery vehicle dubbed Amazon Scout.

Source: Starship

Starship Technologies Inc. launched an on-demand package delivery service for consumers to receive items delivered by its mobile autonomous robots straight to customers’ doorsteps. The idea is that customers interested in the service sign up for a monthly subscription and download the Starship app (for iOS or Android). Once signed up, customers receive a personal address and code that matches the location of a Starship-managed local distribution facility. Instead of putting in their home address for any online delivery, customers would use this new personal address. Starship is also experimenting with food delivery on George Mason University campus.

Source: Kroger

On the food and grocery autonomous delivery, Kroger and Nuro are collaborating to deliver groceries using a fleet of driverless delivery vehicles. The autonomous cars will start delivering milk, eggs, and bread through a pilot program later this year in an unspecified market. The autonomous delivery vehicles will work with Kroger's ClickList same-day ordering system and Nuro's app.

Source: Robotmart

Stop & Shop and Robomart are collaborating to bring the customer a roving produce section, that is right, a mobile produce section. The idea is that the customer calls the self-driving vehicle and once it arrives, the customer pick what he/she wants and pay through the app. Stop & Shop facilities will restock produce on the robot-store throughout the day and monitor it through a remote pilot who can control the vehicle's journey and inventory.

Source: Ford

Other examples on this space include Ford using Postmates delivery service to bring Walmart products to customers' homes via self-driving Ford vehicles; the partnership between GM’s Cruise and DoorDash to deliver food, and AutoX and the online GrubMarket partnership use of an autonomous vehicle to bring customer’s groceries. To finish looking

back to the East, JD started experimenting earlier this year with smart delivery stations. Employees can load the delivery robots with up to 30 parcels, so the robots can autonomously deliver them within a 3 miles radius. The vehicles can plan routes, avoid obstacles and recognize traffic lights. Facial recognition technology will enable users to collect their parcels.


It starts to seem that for the near future, drones may serve suburban areas, while last-mile ground robots may help urban areas. We can also see different solutions for the last-mile delivery, where some companies are investing in their last-mile delivery robots, while others are developing solutions for those companies not interested in their own hardware. Many challenges and opportunities for research and business transformation in these spaces.

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