TECHNOLOGY

FedEx taking automated delivery robot to the sidewalks

BY Dan Berthiaume

FedEx Corp. is testing an autonomous delivery device with retailers including Walmart and Target.

Known as the FedEx SameDay Bot, the device will enable retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them directly to homes or businesses the same day. In addition to Walmart and Target, FedEx is collaborating with retailers such as Walgreens, AutoZone, Lowe’s, and Pizza Hut to help assess the industry’s autonomous delivery needs.

FedEx is developing the zero-emission, battery-powered bot with DEKA Development & Research Corp., whose founder Dean Kamen invented the iBot robotic wheelchair and Segway motorized scooter. Designed to travel on sidewalks and along roadsides, the bot includes pedestrian-safe technology from the iBot. Other safety features include light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors and multiple cameras that enable it to be aware of its surroundings. These safeguards are combined with machine-learning algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path and allow the bot to follow road and safety rules.

In addition, proprietary technology enables the bot to navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs, and steps. FedEx plans to test the bot this summer in select markets, including Memphis, Tenn., pending final city approvals. Resembling a rectangular cooler, the bot has a compartment designed to carry all types of cargo, including hot or cold items.

“The FedEx SameDay Bot is an innovation designed to change the face of local delivery and help retailers efficiently address their customers’ rising expectations,” said Brie Carere, executive VP and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx. “The bot represents a milestone in our ongoing mission to solve the complexities and expense of same-day, last-mile delivery for the growing e-commerce market in a manner that is safe and environmentally friendly.”

The initial test will involve deliveries between selected FedEx Office locations. FedEx Office currently offers a SameDay City service that operates in 32 markets and 1,900 cities, which the FedEx bot will complement.

“We continue to invest in new technologies and capabilities that make Target the easiest place to shop – both now and in the future,” said John Mulligan, COO, Target Corp. “We’re excited to be collaborating with FedEx to explore how autonomous robots could enhance delivery services and more, ensuring we continue to exceed our guests’ expectations for ease and convenience.”

Amazon recently announced a similar, cooler-shaped, six-wheeled autonomous device called Scout that makes short-range deliveries by traveling sidewalks. Walmart and Stop & Shop are also piloting autonomous deliveries.

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