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Robot delivery: Bots will be bringing parcels to your home

Each robot looks different but the objective is similar — getting a package to a customer using an autonomous machine. The aim of these new robot delivery tools is to boost efficiency and eliminate the need to pay people to carry out the final part of the delivery process.

Ford / Agility Robotics

Ford, more commonly associated with cars and trucks, is partnering with legged locomotion specialist Agility Robotics to assess how self-driving car deliveries can be improved. The project objective is to ensure self-driving vehicles can accomplish something that’s been very difficult to accomplish: carrying out the last step of the delivery, from the car to the recipient’s front door.

The two companies hope the answer is a two-legged robot called “Digit”, shown in action here:

Digit has been designed to approximate the look of a human and also to approximate the walk of a person. The robot is constructed from lightweight material and it is capable of lifting packages that weigh up to 40 pounds. In tests, Digit has been shown to be capable of going up and down stairs and to negotiate uneven terrain. This is achieved since Digit is outfitted with a LiDAR and a few stereo cameras.

FedEx

The courier delivery services company FedEx is developing an autonomous delivery robot designed to assist retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers. The device is called the FedEx SameDay Bot, and the aim is to deliver packages by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day. The device has been developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp., run by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway.

The FedEx robot in action:

The FedEx device is the most adventurous of the three, in that it will cross roads and is destined to cover longer distances. The interaction with roads is supported by machine-learning algorithms to help the robot to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path, and to follow road and safety rules.

Amazon Scout

Amazon’s autonomous delivery robots are about to begin rolling out on California sidewalks. Amazon Scout will begin with delivering packages to the company’s Prime customers residing in Southern California. The new Amazon device will work during daylight hours, providing small to medium sized packages to customers. The Amazon Scout is a six-wheeled electric-powered vehicle around the size of a small cooler. In terms of movement, the Scout rolls along sidewalks at what’s described as ‘a walking pace’.

Amazon began testing out the Scout in January 2019, running a pilot program using six machines to deliver packages in Snohomish County, Washington. Vice president of Amazon Scout Sean Scott said: “We developed Amazon Scout at our research and development lab in Seattle, ensuring the devices can safely and efficiently navigate around pets, pedestrians, and anything else in their path.”

Following the success of the pilot, where the Scout autonomously navigated the various obstacles commonly found in residential neighborhoods like trashcans, skateboards, lawn chairs, the occasional snow blower and more, the device is ready for a wider launch.

This will be with a small number of Amazon Scout devices, delivering Monday through Friday, during daylight hours in the Irvine area of California, according to Smart2Zero. For the customers, they will order as normal but in some cases their Amazon packages will be delivered by an Amazon Scout. To make sure things go smoothly, each Scout will initially be accompanied by a human “Amazon Scout Ambassador.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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