Robots Deliver the Goods – Automation Continues to Take Shape in Last Mile Delivery

Can online shopping get even easier? Survey says: Yes it can. As warehouses develop autonomous capabilities, e-commerce checkout is streamlined and delivery gets faster and faster, the logistics behind “last mile” have been heating up.

At one time in the not too distant past, we would not have imagined robots picking up our packages just 24 hours after placing an order. Today, retailers and delivery carriers are developing technologies to enable nearly immediate and effortless delivery.

Driving without Drivers

For the trucking industry, the explosion in home delivery has created both an opportunity and a headache. The regulations around commercial drivers is extensive and strict for safety reasons. But the incredible flow of packages has pushed demand to the point where there is a severe driver shortage. Many small independent drivers have joined the fray, increasing the number of vehicles and the amount of traffic.

To reduce the congestion and increase delivery efficiency, many companies are exploring autonomous solutions. The driverless truck industry is predicted to reach 6,700 units globally, totaling $54.23 billion this year. Saving the logistics and shipping industry about $70 billion annually, the switch can also boost productivity by 30 percent.

In an important regulatory move, the Department of Transportation has opened the door for self-driving trucks, stating that AI can be considered a “driver.” Without the assumption that a commercial vehicle driver must be a human, trucks will be able to travel across state lines piloted by an autonomous driving system. Will they be in your town soon? Only time will tell.

Drone Delivery

Drones are a hot button in the delivery field. There is a great deal of debate about how to regulate drone traffic and registration. Until this legislative obstacle is sorted out, drones can play only a small part in the delivery field.

Although consumer goods are not yet flown in by UAV, adoption of drones for emergency deliveries has been increasing. Reno has received FAA approval for drone delivery Flirtey. Reno is one of 10 participants nationwide in the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP), a fast-track regulatory program that accelerates the integration of life-saving and commercial drone operations within the National Airspace System (NAS).

An important step towards enabling drone delivery is addressing the security issues. In December 2018, Airspace launched a new drone security solution, which allows automated monitoring, evaluation, and neutralization of drones that are dangerous or unauthorized.

There are limitations to drone delivery. Obviously they aren't going to be flying furniture and cases of groceries, but for lightweight packages, they are an interesting option. Battery life and range are also concerns which are being addressed in the R&D process.

Robots at the Door

Automation is not just helpful on the fulfillment and transport front. Amazon, thinking outside the box, has patented a robot that would stay at the home or building, retrieving packages for people as they sleep or work or otherwise go about their lives. The robots would have locking compartments to store packages safely and could self-queue with other homebots at the delivery vehicle.

This idea would help eliminate package theft and the inconvenience of waiting for the delivery, plus it could pave the way for off-hours deliveries. Just think how much traffic could be avoided if the carrier delivered in the early morning hours. Imagine a fleet of autonomous trucks meeting personal robots at 3AM and waking up to the delivery of orders purchased just a day before.

FedEx has just debuted their SameDay Bot, which would make on-demand home deliveries from nearby retailers. Think pizza and toothpaste, for example. The bot will be tested in select markets during 2019 and has already been featured on the Tonight Show.


It is likely that the real future of delivery will use a combination of these automated options. It is not yet clear how it's all going to shake out, but we can expect to see a great deal more automation in the near future.