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Are Deliverybots a Thing of the Future?

Remember the days when you ordered a product for delivery and you expected the package to arrive in one-to-two weeks? Well, those days are long gone. With the boom of e-commerce and companies like Amazon offering two-day delivery, people expect their packages coming from across the world to be delivered to their front porch within days.

People tend to think of last mile-delivery as the shipment from a fulfillment center to the final destination. This is true, but the definition of last-mile delivery has totally expanded over the years. Everything is interconnected these days. Think about it – want a Subway sandwich or some Thai food for dinner, but don’t want to pick it up? Uber Eats, DoorDash or other services will gladly pick it up for you and deliver it. Don’t have time to go to a grocery store? Order online and depending on the grocer, they’ll happily deliver it to you. Shoot, don’t want to drive somewhere? Call a Lyft or an Uber and they’ll deliver you to wherever you want to go.

When you think about it, you can order almost anything you want, without leaving the comfort of your own home. When we think of last-mile delivery, we think of Amazon as the industry leader, paving the way for new, innovative ways on how to deliver goods in the most efficient way possible. Over the years, Amazon has added numerous fulfillment centers all over the U.S. to help keep up with demand. While Amazon continues to utilize FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service to deliver packages, the company has gone in-house to make deliveries through Amazon vans, and they are constantly looking for independent drivers to make deliveries.

This method has been working out well in areas with less congestion like suburbs and rural areas, but deliveries via truck may become a thing of the past in heavy trafficked areas. Logistic companies pride themselves with making on-time deliveries, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for these companies to make on-time deliveries when navigating congested streets. So, what are companies like Amazon and FedEx looking to do as a possible solution?

Well, back in 2013, Amazon created quite the buzz when the company created Amazon Prime Air, a drone-delivery initiative. Amazon’s big plans were to deliver small cargo, weighing up to five pounds through drones, but six years later, this delivery system has yet to go mainstream. Amazon is still working on the program, but it isn’t known when the service will become widely available. But, Amazon and other companies have been working on another solution that seems more viable.

Robots. Amazon announced earlier this year they would start testing its new six-wheeled autonomous delivery robot, named Scout, designed to navigate pedestrian sidewalks. In February, FedEx announced that it would also start testing a similar robot, both programmed to safely and efficiently navigate around anything in its path. Dogs, people, structures, you name it. If testing all goes according to plan, Amazon and FedEx will be able to deliver same-day, one-day, or two-day orders to its customers.

But don’t give FedEx and Amazon all the credit for this development. They are not the first ones to tap into the automated delivery market. In fact, startup companies like Starship, Marble and Kiwi have all made successful robot deliveries over the years. But the technology is still very new, and the ‘kinks’ still need to be worked out so that safe, on-time deliveries are met.

In fact, while delivering pizzas to students on UC Berkeley’s campus, a Kiwi robot delivered the pizza extra crispy. It caught on fire from a malfunction in the battery. And, needless to say, it’s not an easy task to develop a robot that can navigate unpredictable walkways and roads safely and efficiently.

For big retail companies like Amazon, testing robots will take some time. Robots, at least right now, can’t open gates, or climb steps or do a lot of the thing’s humans can do. Robots will always be limited in what they can do and where they can deliver to. Still, robots will help provide relief to delivery drivers stuck in traffic. Even companies like Pizza Hut, who recently partnered with FedEx wants to tap into this market so that they can deliver pizzas using robots. The world is changing as we know it, and it seems inevitable that robots, in some capacity, will be used for deliveries.

So, when the day does come when we see robots navigating sidewalks, how will people perceive them? Will they be accepted, or will they be tampered with or broken so that they can’t make deliveries? That’s a whole other challenge in itself. Companies looking to use robots will have to promote them in a way that will be accepted by the general public, otherwise they may be seen as an annoyance.

Time will tell what the future holds for these robots, but the way technology has developed over the past decade, it seems pretty clear that last-mile delivery will continue to evolve.