Startups do it. Amazon does it. And now even Fedex is doing it — experimenting with robots for short-range deliveries. Today, the company officially announced its new FedEx SameDay Bot, which it says could help make “last mile” deliveries more efficient.
The SameDay Bot is battery-powered, has a top speed of 10 mph, and is autonomous, meaning it can steer itself around pedestrians and traffic using a combination of LIDAR sensors like those found in self-driving cars and regular cameras.
FedEx says it will initially use the bot to courier packages between the company’s offices in its headquarters in Memphis (pending approval from local government). But if these trials are successful it wants to expand the service to other companies and retailers, eventually making robots a standard part of its same-day delivery service.
The company says it’s currently in talks with firms including AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart to assess their need for this sort of robot delivery. On average, says FedEx, more than 60 percent of customers for these retailers live within three miles of a store — the perfect range for a little wheeled robot.
FedEx is far from the only company experimenting with short-range delivery bots. A number of startups and large firms have begun trials with similar technology, though it’s not clear if such robots will be economical to deploy at scale, or if they can be integrated safely into cities. San Francisco was an early testing ground for such bots, but municipal legislators ended up restricting their movements as a nuisance. Other cities and states have been keen to encourage their use.
SameDay Bot does have some features that makes it stand out from the crowd though. It was developed with the help of engineer Dean Kamen, who previously created the Segway and stair-climbing upright wheelchair, iBot, and you can see the legacy of Kamen’s work in FedEx’s robot, which uses multiple pairs of wheels to climb up steps and curbs.
A video commercial for the bot also shows that it has screens on the front and back to communicate with pedestrians. A screen on the front says “hello” while a screen on the back indicates its direction of travel and whether or not it’s about to stop. Self-driving car makers have experimented with similar technology, saying they help reduce accidents and misunderstandings between human and machine.
You can watch a video of the FedEx SameDay Bot in action on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon below, from 5:00 on: