FedEx Corp. envisions a not-too-distant future in which it relies on Star Wars-style robots for more deliveries. Imagine a box-shaped bot that can roll out of a neighborhood pharmacy and drop off prescription medicine at a nearby house.
The courier is ready to begin testing a 4-foot, 2-inch tall delivery robot in Memphis, Tennessee, and two other cities as early as this summer. The battery-powered bot travels at 10 miles an hour, has a range of eight miles and can navigate streets, sidewalks, curbs, potholes, dodge pedestrians and even take the steps up to a home’s front door.
While airborne drone deliveries -- and all the technological and regulatory hurdles they entail -- are getting most of the attention these days, FedEx believes it has an option for same-day ground service that’s ready to go. Six major retailers, including Walmart Inc., Target Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Lowe’s Cos., have signed on to try out the six-wheeled contraption, said Brie Carere, FedEx’s marketing chief.
“Right now in the market, nobody does this effectively,” Carere said. “This device is way more cost efficient than sending a full-sized truck or even a full-sized car. It’s also safer and more environmentally friendly.”
The demands of e-commerce shoppers are pushing retailers to compete for speedier delivery, which is driving up costs to hire drivers and buy and maintain vehicles while creating more traffic on busy city streets. Costs and congestion will only increase as internet purchases, which make up about 14 % of overall retail sales, continue to surge.
Robots are one solution. Amazon.com Inc. in January announced a trial of a delivery robot that resembles an ice chest on wheels that rolls along sidewalks and can adjust for obstacles such as people and pets.
Startups, including Kiwi and Starship Technologies, are using similar gadgets for college-campus deliveries. Savioke Inc. has developed a robot to deliver items to hotel rooms. A Los Angeles Sheraton hotel is sending guests’ luggage to rooms using robots made by Aethon Inc.