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Robot Roundup: Delivery Robots Strive to Drive the Last Mile

Starship Robot Delivery Service Launch Event, Monkston Park, Milton Keynes, April 2018 Credit: Starship/Philip Bedford

August 16, 2018      

A growing number of companies are aiming to use robots and aerial drones to deliver goods to customers. Whether they’re personal assistant delivery robots, mini-vehicle robots, or unmanned aerial vehicles that hover in the sky and deliver packages via cable, it’s clear that package companies and logistics firms are looking for the best options for that last step of a product’s journey.

While some current delivery robots use operators or are semi-autonomous, the industry is moving to fully autonomous variants. Some industry experts predict that more than 75% of last-mile deliveries will include elements of autonomous operation, with McKinsey predicting that autonomous vehicles will make up 85% of last-mile deliveries by 2025.

Companies such as Amazon, DHL, and UPS, as well as logistics and supply chain management organizations, have been experimenting with robots and drones to deliver parcels. The desire to move goods and parcels quickly and efficiently, particularly when delivering to the last mile, created a market that reached $1 billion in 2016.

The drone logistics and transportation market will exceed $11 billion by 2022, with a $29.06 billion market by 2027, predicted Research and Markets in June. “Increasing demand for faster delivery in the logistics industry is expected to fuel the growth of the drone logistics and drone transportation market,” the research firm stated.


 
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Companies in other industries and market segments, including retail stores, restaurants, pharmacies, and healthcare organizations, are looking at last-mile delivery robots as a way to improve customer service and differentiate themselves to their customer base.

Challenges rise for delivery robots

Although the market is expected to grow, several challenges remain for automated last-mile deliveries. Like self-driving cars, many trials of autonomous last-mile delivery robots are occurring in fair-weather locations. Outdoor deliveries will challenge such vehicles with snowy, icy, or rainy conditions.

In addition, municipalities are looking at regulating the use of these robots on city sidewalks. For example, in December 2017, the city of San Francisco banned delivery robots from most of its sidewalks, forcing companies to test their robots in other cities. These challenges, among others, will determine whether last-mile delivery robots moves from an emerging technology to a more mass-market offering.

The following outlines several companies in the last-mile delivery robotics space using ground robots. For an overview of drone delivery companies, check out our report from earlier this year.

BoxBot

Boxbot was co-founded in late 2016 by engineers from Tesla and Uber. The team has worked for leading automation and vehicle companies such as Tesla, Uber, Amazon, Getaround, and Northrop Grumman.

In June, Boxbot announced a $7.5 million seed funding round, led by Toyota AI Ventures.

Logistics Escapes the Warehouse to Conquer the Last Mile -- Why Toyota Invested in Boxbot

Dispatch

The company created a platform in 2016 for local delivery, powered by a fleet of autonomous vehicles designed for sidewalks and pedestrian spaces.

Also that year, the company raised $2 million in seed funding, led by Andreesen Horowitz.

Kiwi Campus

This startup recently started delivering food via autonomous mobile robots to University of California, Berkeley, students, as well as customers in the Berkeley, Calif. area.

Marble

The company has developed “intelligent courier robots” designed to reliably and securely transport goods that are accessible to everyone. Example payloads include groceries, meals, and medicine.

In April, the company closed a $10 million funding round, with investment from Tencent, Lemnos, CrunchFund, and Maven, among others.

Nuro

Founded by two principal engineers on the Google self-driving car project (now Waymo), Nuro’s stated mission is to accelerate the benefits of robotics for everyday life. The company focuses on providing self-driving vehicles for local goods transportation.

In June, the company announced a partnership with grocery chain Kroger for a pilot program on autonomous grocery delivery.

Delivery robots Nuro Kroger

Kroger and Nuro Launch Partnership (PRNewsfoto/The Kroger Co.)

Piaggio Fast Forward

Piaggio said it wants to “revolutionize how people and goods move around 21st-century cities” by designing, developing, and manufacturing new kinds of vehicles.

A division of the Italian maker of scooters and motorcycles, Piaggo has developed two cargo robots it calls Gita and Kilo, designed to hold packages and tag along after a human.

Robby Technologies

The company introduced its self-driving robots for last-mile delivery in 2016. Since then, its robots have traveled more than 4,000 miles and served hundreds of customers across California. The company recently announced its next generation of self-driving delivery robots, featuring full-spectrum cameras, a new drivetrain, and new self-driving software.

Robby is changing the way products and goods move between people, stores and warehouses within two miles. (PRNewsfoto/Robby Technologies)

Starship Technologies

This company, an RBR50 2018 winner, offers a combination of mobile technology; specially designed robots; and a local hub system designed to make local delivery faster, smarter, and more cost-efficient.

In June, the company announced $25 million in new funding and a new CEO, Lex Bayer. The company said its delivery robots have now covered 100,000 miles around the world in 20 countries and more than 100 cities.

Starship delivery robots

Starship’s fleet of robots are used to deliver goods on campus settings. Credit: Starship

TeleRetail

Swiss startup Teleretail AG offers robotic logistics systems that are designed to cover longer distances — up to 50 miles. The company said it employs some of the same systems developed for self-driving cars, including sensors, computer vision systems and GPS-aided navigational systems.

Teleretail has obtained components and equipment for its prototype delivery robots from sponsors such as Bosch and NVIDIA. In July 2018, TeleRetail was announced as one of 10 finalists to the Swisscom Start-up Challenge.