Delivery robots yet, or within a minute, the FedEx robot prototype has made the last mile delivery process compelling enough to be shown on late night TV. “This is where the future is,” Jimmy Fallon said in 2019, when the company’s autonomous robot, later dubbed Roxo, was delivering pizza to the Tonight Show host.
But despite the hype, the road to widespread adoption of sidewalk robots for delivery of goods in the United States has not been smooth.FedEx has retained the Roxo less than four years after its stellar debut, according to an October statement. Meanwhile, Amazon has completed field tests of its delivery robot after failing to meet customer needs.
With logistics giants struggling to come up with an efficient formula for their delivery robots, will there ever be a long-term sustainable business model? Many executives, researchers and regulators interviewed by Supply Chain Dive say “yes” and that today’s labor and inflation challenges can help you get your cargo faster. However,
insiders say that to truly thrive, the industry still faces major hurdles in terms of funding, segment diversification, and more.
Why delivery bots could gain momentum post-pandemic
Even though FedEx and Amazon are gone, there are still veteran and growing players in the delivery robot industry. Executives at these tech companies say that using their robots to deliver goods to consumers compared to a human courier using a vehicle could have benefits that have become increasingly apparent in recent years.
Chief among these is the ability to reduce the cost of last mile delivery, considered the most expensive stage in the shipping process. With their autonomous or remote-controlled capabilities, delivery robots are immune to the courier wage increases that standard suppliers pass on to the end customer. They’re also not as vulnerable to the gas price spikes that hit shippers — and therefore their shippers — last year.
“After COVID, there were employee issues,” said Ali Kashani, co-founder and CEO of developer and delivery bot operator Serve Robotics. “Then inflation went up and labor costs went up, and then gas costs went up. Every one of those things that happened was good for us.”