The number of companies exploring the possibility of using robots to deliver products to homes grew on Wednesday with the announcement that FedEx hopes to change the way you get a hot pizza, groceries or even auto parts.
The delivery giant calls its new initiative the "FedEx SameDay Bot," and the idea is to deliver same-day orders for those who live within about three miles of a store from which people buy everyday goods. For now, the company is collaborating with Autozone, Pizza Hut, Target and Walmart, but that list could grow as they test the technology.
With an average of more than 60 percent of its customers living within three miles of a store location, FedEx says it is convinced the demand is there.
"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 for FedEx.
The battery-powered robot is designed to travel short distances via sidewalk or the side of the road, and FedEx said it will include LiDar, a radar-like system, that keeps pedestrians safe.
But what about those uneven, worn paths that even trip up humans? The company says the SameDay Bot can navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs and even climb steps.
“The bot has unique capabilities that make it unlike other autonomous vehicles,” said Dean Kamen, the founder of DEKA Development & Research Corp., the company that developed the bot.
“We built upon the power base of the iBot, an advanced, FDA-approved, mobility device for the disabled population with more than 10 million hours of reliable, real-world operation. By leveraging this base in an additional application, we hope that the iBot will become even more accessible to those who need it for their own mobility.”
FedEx plans to test the bot this summer in select markets, including Memphis, Tennessee, pending final city approvals. The initial test will involve deliveries between FedEx Office locations before a wider rollout.
“When we saw the FedEx SameDay Bot in action, it confirmed to our team the many ways it can help us improve our service by offering reliable, highly efficient deliveries to our customers,” said Bill Rhodes, CEO of AutoZone.
Pizza Hut said in a statement their participation in the new program is part of an effort to improve their delivery service. “Pizza Hut is constantly exploring new technology-based solutions to advance our delivery business as we look to redefine the modern pizza experience for our customers,” said Nicolas Burquier, chief customer and operations officer of Pizza Hut in the U.S.
Target also shared a statement in which its chief operating officer, John Mulligan, said their partnership with FedEx is part of their plan to "make Target the easiest place to shop -- both now and in the future."
"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.”