Autonomous delivery services are fast becoming another potential disrupter in the landscape of new technologies trying to redraw the map for final-mile urban delivery. Sidewalk delivery robots already are a reality in some cities, on college campuses and large corporate business parks.
The development of these robots is led by a passel of startup companies such as Starship Technologies, Marble, Robby Technologies and Dispatch, and has backing from major players including Mercedes-Benz and Amazon.com.
Mercedes-Benz Vans, in fact, is a lead investor in Starship Technologies, which has one of the larger deployments of sidewalk delivery robots in the United States and is expanding. Last year, the companies tested a prototype deployment that used a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van as a mobile loading and transport hub for eight Starship autonomous delivery robots.
The main urban delivery options for businesses are mail, ground package delivery, courier, vehicle, bike or scooter. But the ease and ubiquity of online ordering leads to more demand for speedy delivery, which is putting a strain on traditional transportation methods. For short deliveries in high-density urban areas, sidewalk robots represent an alternative that could reduce costs and improve service while also reducing inner-city truck congestion. TransportTopics reports about robots in city logistics.
While the robotics technology seems solid and the initial execution in certain urban environments has been good, the potential application of this technology is limited, said Bart De Muynck, a research vice president at Gartner Inc.: “It’s all about the return on investment,” he said. If the autonomous delivery vehicle can hold 50 orders and cover a small, dense urban area to make those final deliveries to the door, then maybe it makes sense.” But he questioned the viability of a smaller capacity robot that might hold only one or two orders while negotiating all the challenges of a dense urban environment. “If you have a robot going only 3 to 6 miles per hour, how effective is that? How many deliveries can that robot do in an hour?”
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