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FedEx Unveils Autonomous Bot for Quick, Last-mile Deliveries

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【Summary】For balance, staggered wheels enable the driverless bot to climb up steps, take on steep inclines and remain upright along curbs or potholes.

Michael Cheng    Mar 03, 2019 6:00 AM PT
FedEx Unveils Autonomous Bot for Quick, Last-mile Deliveries

In the future, individuals may receive FedEx packages from autonomous robots. This is the vision the leading delivery company conveyed when it announced the launching of SameDay Bot: a versatile, happy-go-lucky driverless pod with wheels.

The cutting-edge solution is designed to cater to last-mile deliveries, which currently makes up a large portion of FedEx's services. According to the business, a whopping 60 percent of merchants' customers reside within three miles of a FedEx store.  

FedEx SameDay Bot

The SameDay Bot is equipped with cameras and LIDAR sensors to assist in navigation around busy cities. For balance, staggered wheels enable the driverless bot to climb up steps, take on steep inclines and remain upright along curbs or potholes. The unit was created with Dean Kamen, who is responsible for developing the iconic Segway and iBot.

Powered by batteries, the autonomous delivery pod features a top speed of 10 mph. The zero-emission bot interacts with pedestrians and customers via a front-facing screen. To ensure safety, a back-facing panel is also available, advising nearby individuals about the motions of the unit. FedEx released a demo of the SameDay Bot on YouTube, showcasing its ability to overcome various urban obstacles, from intersections and traffic lights to sprinkler systems and curious pets.

"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 Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at 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."

In the driverless deliveries space, FedEx has positioned itself to directly compete with California-based Starship Technologies. The prolific robotics startup is making serious gains in the nascent sector, which has raised more than $40 million across two seed funding rounds (to date).

Other companies developing technology for autonomous deliveries include: Amazon and Nuro. Interestingly, United Parcel Service (UPS) has not made any significant moves in the sector. However, it has been testing drone-based deliveries.

Testing with Major Brands

FedEx is in the process of launching numerous trials involving a wide range of popular brands and retailers. A report from Reuters cited the delivery company is collaborating with Walmart, Pizza Hut, Target and AutoZone. Initially, the public trials will cater to deliveries between FedEx stores. Afterwards, the project will move on to handle other types of products.

In order for the trials to be successful, they must win approval from local communities participating in the project. As long as the autonomous bots do not contribute to congestion and complete the deliveries in a timely, cost-effective manner, FedEx isn't expected to encounter critical issues during the trials.

One of the cities selected for testing is Memphis – the establishment's hometown.

"We couldn't be more excited that FedEx chose its hometown as one of the pilot cities for this revolutionary innovation," highlighted Mayor Jim Strickland, City of Memphis.

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