Do autonomous delivery robots deliver?

Do autonomous delivery robots deliver? Road autonomous mobile robots have attracted the attention of delivery companies and policy makers owing to their potential to reduce costs and increase urban freight efficiency. Established delivery companies and new startups are investing in technologies that reduce delivery times, increase delivery drivers’ productivity, or both. In this context, adopting road automatic (or autonomous) delivery robots (RADRs) has a growing appeal.

Several RADRs are being tested in the US. The key novel contributions of research by Dylan Jennings and Miguel Figliozzi are: an analysis of the characteristics and regulation of RADRs in the US and a study of the relative travel, time, and cost efficiencies that RADRs can bring about when compared to traditional van deliveries.

The results show that RADRs can provide substantial cost savings in many scenarios, but in all cases at the expense of substantially higher vehicle miles per customer served. Unlike sidewalk autonomous delivery robots (SADRs), the RADRs may contribute significantly to additional vehicle miles per customer served.

RADRs are more competitive than conventional vans but are limited mainly by their short range and limited storage capacity. More and better batteries can address the short range. Although this would be at the expense of additional vehicle weight and cost, batteries are one of the significant barriers to the electrification of freight.

The large-scale introduction of RADRs can also bring about new business and service models made possible by 24-h operations as autonomous delivery robots are not subject to limitations such as driver fatigue and lunch and rest breaks. But, on the other hand, RADRs can bring about more congestion unless they become more efficient than conventional vans regarding vehicle-miles per customer visited.

High safety standards for RADRs may result in increased delivery times per customer, which in turn decreases the economic appeal.

Source: Jennings, D. and Figliozzi, M., 2020. Study of Road Autonomous Delivery Robots and their Potential Effects on Freight Efficiency and Travel. Transportation Research Record, 2674(9), pp.1019-1029. PDF

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