Long gone are the days of Paul Revere and his famous ride alerting the town folk that “the British are coming,” and yet, here we are, and something IS coming. Autonomous delivery robots are popping up all over the country, helping companies deliver food to hungry individuals in Washington, DC and helping major carriers deliver small packages to consumers.
We have seen a shift in the public perception of robots; maybe this is due to the “porch pirates” we all experience during the holiday season. Regardless of the reason, consumers want immediate and more customized access to the items they purchase, and businesses are responding with solutions:
- In January 2018, Walmart and Amazon both reported that they are testing programs which allow delivery agents/robots temporary access to a consumer’s home. Garages or front doors unlock, and the delivery agent places the packages inside with the door locking behind them. The robots are specially crafted to be able to open garage and front doors.
- In May 2018, UPS and Amazon both announced that they are testing package delivery using drones. The drones can travel up to 100 mph and will deliver packages that are under five pounds. UPS plans on using the top of their delivery trucks as a mini-helipad to expedite deliveries, while Amazon hopes to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less.
- In January of 2019, Starship, an autonomous delivery robot start-up, announced their partnership with Sodexo to help deliver food to students from various restaurants on a university campus. Each robot can carry up to 20 pounds of food and can make the delivery in 15 minutes or less, providing a prompt and modern service to their students.
- In February 2019, FedEx debuted an autonomous same-day delivery bot. Testing is still underway, but the idea is that the robot will make deliveries within a three-mile radius from a FedEx store or partner. The robot is equipped with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), cameras, and machine learning to help it navigate along the delivery route.
What does this mean for any campus environment? The robots are coming! They will deliver your food and soon, packages. Amazon’s recent patent application for an autonomous ground vehicle has sparked a race with many start-ups around the country. One-hour delivery or same-day delivery is expensive, and the company that can figure out a cost-effective solution will have a huge advantage in the market.
Picture this: You attend a local university and you’re sitting in Calculus 316. You receive an alert that the new shoes you ordered have been delivered to the campus post office. The post office closes before your class ends and is closed on Saturday and Sunday. Even worse, Monday is a holiday. You would have to wait until Tuesday to pick up your shoes, until you remember that your campus is taking advantage of a fleet of delivery robots. You log into your trusted in-building logistics app and request for the robot to deliver your shoes to one of the 50 predetermined delivery zones on campus once your class ends.
PepsiCo partnered with a robot-making startup, Robby Technologies, to launch a campus delivery program for faculty, staff and students. The program allows them to login on a mobile app, place an order and select their delivery location and time. A robot then meets them in the specified location with their items and then moves on to the next customer. These robots are acting as a mobile vending machine, offering the same snacks and beverages available in their stationary counterparts.
We live in a consumer driven world and businesses must figure out a way to speed up their delivery methods while keeping logistics costs down. This alone will be the driving force in developing this technology as fast as possible. In some cases, you can already find delivery robots and drones being tested on campuses today. While the robots aren’t coming with the same hostile intentions, as Paul Revere said on his ride to Lexington and Concord from Boston at Midnight, April 16, 1775, they’re still coming.