FedEx rolls out prototype of autonomous SameDay Bot

The SameDay Bot should help FedEx address the challenge of last-mile logistics.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

FedEx on Wednesday unveiled a prototype of its SameDay Bot, an autonomous delivery vehicle designed to get smaller deliveries from retailers to nearby customers. Like Amazon and FedEx's other competitors in the shipping business, FedEx is hoping that autonomous vehicles can help it solve the challenges of last-mile logistics.

Developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., the SameDay Bot is designed to basically go anywhere a human can go -- on sidewalks, streets or grass, over steps and up steep ramps. The battery-powered robot is designed to communicate with those around it about its next moves, and it's equipped with LiDAR and multiple cameras that keep it aware of its surroundings. Its AI algorithms help it plot a safe path to its destination, as well as detect and avoid obstacles.

It can carry up to 100 pounds and travel up to 10 miles per hour.

FedEx will start testing the bot with this summer in a few markets, including Memphis, Tennessee. Initial tests will involve deliveries between selected FedEx Office locations. FedEx is also working with retail partners to test the bot, including AutoZone, Lowe's, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

During a FedEx livestreamed event, FedEx corporate VP Gloria Boyland explained how the SameDay Bot will enable more efficient last-mile deliveries for these kinds of retail partners.

"Today you have a 2,000-pound vehicle delivering a one-pound pizza or a five-pound bag of items," she said. The bot, by contrast, is "optimized for the mission." The battery-powered device will be much cheaper to run than gasoline-powered vehicles, she said. Additionally, she added, "as we mass produce them, the price drops dramatically."

Last-mile logistics is a major part of logistics and shipping. On average, FedEx says, more than 60 percent of merchants' customers live within three miles of a store location.

Just last month, Amazon also unveiled a last-mile delivery robot, named Amazon Scout. Just a few Scout delivery robots are currently being tested, while Amazon works on other logistics technologies including autonomous drones to a Prime-branded cargo plane fleet. Meanwhile, last year DHL rolled out a software platform to enable retailers to tap into a network of "crowd-sourced" drivers for last-mile delivery. 

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