While we wait for all the answers on how autonomous cars will fit into our society, technology keeps raging on in the automotive space. Much of it is focused on deliveries, both with autonomous delivery vehicles and delivery robots.
But a future for these also depends on whether they can find the right audience, just as the future of autonomous passenger cars does. FedEx sent its delivery robots to roam the streets of New York City only to be denied by the mayor who did not welcome them to the City that Never Sleeps.
FedEx Delivery Robots Denied
FedEx reported to TechCrunch that the delivery robots were sent to New York City for a preview party for its Small Business Saturday event. They assured the outlet they are not testing them in the Big Apple.
However, it was still too much for Mayor Bill de Blasio just to have the presence of the bots on the streets. City officials fear they will provide too much congestion on their busy streets and that the bots will take jobs away from the working humans.
De Blasio tweeted, “First of all, @FedEx never got a robot to do a New Yorker’s job. We have the finest workers in the world. Second of all, we didn’t grant permission for these to clog up our streets. If we see ANY of these bots, we’ll send them packing.”
Additionally, the New York Department of Transportation sent FedEx a cease-and-desist order to stop operating the delivery robots. It informed the delivery company that the bots were violating several vehicle and traffic laws in the city, including one that prohibits motor vehicles on sidewalks.
What Does the Future Hold for Delivery Robots?
But FedEx is far and away from the only business eying delivery robots. Amazon has been testing them as well, as has Postmates.
FedEx unveiled what it refers to as the SameDay Bot in February of this year. They said they planned to figure out how it might fit into the business, and planned to work with other major businesses, such as AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens, and Walmart. They wanted to find a way for customers to place an order with a retailer and for it to be delivered to them the same day.
At the time, FedEx said the initial test for this program would be between select FedEx Office locations and that ultimately it will complement its FedEx SameDay City service which is already in 32 markets and 1,900 cities. A spokesperson reports the bots were tested in Memphis, Tennessee; Plano, Texas; Frisco, Texas; and Manchester, New Hampshire.
The FedEx delivery robot was developed in a collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., whose founder Dean Kamen invented the Segway and iBot wheelchair.
The result is a bot equipped with sensing technology, such as LiDAR and cameras. When these combine with machine learning algorithms, the bot should be able to detect and avoid obstacles to create a safe path, while also following the rules of the road, or in New York City’s case, the sidewalk.
But is there a future for these delivery robots if major cities are kicking them out before they even get put to work? From the sounds of it, delivery companies and retailers are all working on quick, unmanned deliveries. Every grocery store now offers some type of same-day delivery. Are we past the point of where we can “back up the truck,” so to speak? Can we really turn things around and go back to the way it once was?
Tell us your thoughts in the comments below whether delivery robots should be allowed on streets and sidewalks and whether there’s a way to stop technology from marching on in the delivery business.
Image Credit: FedEx