Last-Mile Robots... Coming Soon?

The robots are coming. Well, maybe. We’ll know soon

In the logistics and delivery business, it’s smart to think end-to-end. In other words, we’re not happy until we know that package got into the right hands at the right time, and everyone involved is happy. And if that ‘last-mile’ delivery is done by a robot, no problem.

We’re at a point now where robots can navigate sidewalks, climb stairs and, presumably, not trip over that bike in their path. Interestingly, some of these robots look like the two-legged soldiers from the Terminator series. Plenty of people have said, “Why do robots have to look and walk like people?” The answer is; they don’t – but as it turns out, people are pretty good at getting around, so why not use us as models?

So here come Ford Motor Co. and Agility Robotics of Oregon with a two-legged, two-armed robot designed to make deliveries. Ford is partnering with Walmart, Postmates, and Agility to perfect the robot’s ability to make final-mile deliveries. This robot can lift 40 pounds, walk over uneven terrain and its hands have rubbery surfaces to help with grip. Regarding wheels vs. legs, Ford says wheeled robots, like the ones being tested by FedEx, can’t get through some doors or climb steps.

No matter what the robot looks like, there are still challenges. Will they be deployed out of trucks? Will those trucks be autonomous? Will there be enough parking, which is a problem even now for final-mile deliveries? Amy Moore, a research associate for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Transportation Planning and Decision Science Group, has these questions and more. “I wonder how well this system would work in a really urban environment,” Moore told a publication called Transport Topics. “Especially if the van has to circle (instead of parking).”

When the parking question comes into play, this naturally leads to a discussion about drones. But that’s another read for another day.



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