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Walmart, Target, Walgreens to pilot FedEx delivery robot

Autonomous device to provide same-day, last-mile service

Walmart, Target and Walgreens are among a group of retailers working with FedEx Corp. to test a robot for last-mile delivery of online orders.

Called the FedEx SameDay Bot, the wheeled, shoulder-high autonomous delivery device will enable retailers to accept small-shipment orders from nearby customers and bring the items directly to their homes or businesses on the same day, FedEx said Wednesday.

There’s a growing need for solutions to support on-demand, hyper-local delivery, FedEx noted. The Memphis, Tenn.-based company reported that, on average, more than 60% of retailers’ customers live within three miles of a store.

FedEx plans to pilot the SameDay Bot this summer in select markets, including Memphis, pending final city approvals. The company said that along with Walmart, Target and Walgreens it’s collaborating with merchants such as Pizza Hut, Lowe’s and AutoZone to gauge their autonomous delivery needs.

“The FedEx SameDay Bot is an innovation designed to change the face of local delivery and help retailers efficiently address their customers’ rising expectations,” Brie Carere, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx said in a statement. “The bot represents a milestone in our ongoing mission to solve the complexities and expense of same-day, last-mile delivery for the growing e-commerce market in a manner that is safe and environmentally friendly.”

Using artificial intelligence and an array of sensors and cameras, the FedEx SameDay Bot — which looks like a cooler on wheels — is designed to travel on sidewalks and along roadsides to deliver small orders to homes and businesses. Pedestrian-safe technology from the iBot Personal Mobility Device plus advanced technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras allow the bot to be aware of its surroundings. In addition, machine-learning algorithms help the unit detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path and follow road and safety rules.

An intelligent dual-wheel system enables the zero-emission, battery-powered bot to navigate rough or uneven terrain, including unpaved surfaces, curbs, inclines and steps for door-to-door delivery. A screen on the device indicates its movement. When the bot reaches its destination, its cabinet automatically rises up and opens its doors so customers can retrieve their items, which can include food or nonfood products.

Both hot and cold food items can be delivered.

“We continue to invest in new technologies and capabilities that make Target the easiest place to shop, both now and in the future,” stated John Mulligan, chief operating officer at Target. “We’re excited to be collaborating with FedEx to explore how autonomous robots could enhance delivery services and more, ensuring we continue to exceed our guests’ expectations for ease and convenience.”

FedEx said the bot prototype will be refined to meet safety standards and regulations as well as customers’ specific needs.

“At Walgreens, we’re on a journey to leverage the latest in innovative technologies to provide a differentiated pharmacy and health care experience, and delivery solutions that bring our services to our customers wherever they are and whenever they need them,” commented Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. “With FedEx as a partner, Walgreens has become the fastest choice for next-day prescription delivery in the U.S., and we’re excited that through our growing relationship, the FedEx SameDay Bot is another way we can offer better service and greater convenience to our customers.”

The FedEx bot’s initial test will focus on deliveries between select FedEx Office locations. FedEx Office currently offers a SameDay City service that operates in 32 markets and 1,900 cities using branded FedEx vehicles and uniformed FedEx employees. The bot will complement that service.

The company said the first group of retailers to view the FedEx SameDay Bot prototype grasp the technology’s potential for their industries.

“Pizza Hut is constantly exploring new technology-based solutions to advance our delivery business as we look to redefine the modern pizza experience for our customers,” according to Nicolas Burquier, chief customer and operations officer of Pizza Hut U.S. “The opportunity to work with a proven innovator in the delivery space like FedEx allows us the opportunity to leverage cutting-edge technology to further optimize our best-in-class delivery experience.”

The bot made its first public appearance during NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” Feb. 26, FedEx said. The robot is being developed with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and founder Dean Kamen, inventor of the iBot, the Segway personal transporter and other novel technologies.

Kamen reported that the iBot was built to serve the disabled population and has logged over 10 million hours of reliable, real-world operation. “The bot has unique capabilities that make it unlike other autonomous vehicles,” he added. “By leveraging this base in an additional application, we hope that the iBot will become even more accessible to those who need it for their own mobility.”

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