If Major Cities Will Not Allow Delivery Robots, Is There a Future for Them?

News Fedex Delivery Robots Featured

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.

News Fedex Delivery Robots Boxes

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

One comment

  1. Delivery robots may be a great solution for rural areas where they can replace delivery trucks that are powered by fossil fuel. In a city, no matter its size, robots are a very bad idea.

    I rarely, if ever, agree with Mayor DeBlasio. However, in this case, I agree with him totally. There is no room on the streets or on the sidewalks for any more traffic. For anyone that has been to New York City (Manhattan) during the day, it is patently obvious that the traffic is already way past the saturation point. The quickest way to move around the city is either by subway or on foot. To add hundreds, if not thousands, of delivery robots would be dangerous, irresponsible and would grid-lock traffic further. A faint possibility would be to allow these robots in the middle of the night (12AM-4AM). However, I’m sure the delivery companies would scream bloody murder about restraint of trade, government overreach and anything else their creative lawyers can think of. It would be best to never allow the robots.

    Delivery robots in the other boroughs of NYC may be feasible. However, allowing them there would establish a precedent and sooner or later, the delivery companies would use that precedent to force their way into Manhattan. In any other city, the use of delivery robots woudl present the same problems.

    “the bots will take jobs away from the working humans”
    That rhetoric has been used ever since the first machine took over a human task. Jobs may be taken away from one particular group but they are created for other groups.

    “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.”
    The robots are only one side of the equation. What about the other side, the humans? Robots may navigate perfectly but how are they going to account for and defend against “stupid human tricks”? How are they going to contend with the driver who is smoking a cigarette, reading a paper and eating breakfast all at the same time, and maybe talking on the phone? How are the robots going to contend with being targeted by humans (drivers and pedestrians)?

    “Can we really turn things around and go back to the way it once was?”
    In big cities, we may have to. For merchants who care about the quality of service bicycle delivery boys offer a faster, more reliable delivery than robots.

    “whether delivery robots should be allowed on streets and sidewalks”
    Only if autonomous cars take over the streets and roads. Then they can be all coordinated from the same control point.

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