FedEx Corp. (NYSE:FDX) said today it is building a battery-powered robot capable of travelling eight miles round-trip to deliver letters and parcels. The technology, called the “Same-Day Delivery Bot,” can motor up to 10 miles per hour carrying a 100-pound maximum payload, FedEx said. The bot can operate on sidewalks and roadsides, and is designed to negotiate curbs, unpaved surfaces and small flights of steps to a front porch, according to FedEx.
The bot is being developed by FedEx and DEKA Development & Research Corp., whose founder, Dean Kamen, invented the Segway and ibot personal mobility devices.
The FedEx bot has been built with “machine learning” algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path, and follow road and safety rules, FedEx said. It is equipped with signals, lights and a signaling screen to communicate its direction to people and vehicles around it, according to FedEx.
The FedEx bot was unveiled just weeks after Amazon.com, Inc. began testing a delivery bot in a Seattle suburb. Glenn Zaccara, a spokesman for UPS Inc. (NYSE:UPS), FedEx’s chief rival, said UPS has no plans to develop similar technology. According to Zaccara, UPS customers prefer the “human interaction” with the company’s uniformed delivery personnel. Such an initiative would also likely not sit well with the Teamsters union, which represents UPS drivers. For now, the Atlanta-based company is focusing its autonomous delivery efforts on drone technology.
FedEx said it is “collaborating” with half-a-dozen big retailers, including Walmart, Walgreens and AutoZone to assess their autonomous delivery needs. On average, more than 60 percent of merchants’ customers live within three miles of a store location, FedEx said, without citing the source of the factoid.
FedEx said it plans to test the bot this summer in specific markets, including its Memphis, Tennessee home base. Before doing so, it needs to receive approvals from the respective cities.
The initial test deliveries will be made between locations of FedEx Office, the company’s retail network operation. FedEx Office offers same-day deliveries in 32 markets and 1,900 cities with FedEx branded vehicles and workers. The bot will complement the existing same-day service, according to FedEx.