Anyone who has seen the prototypes for autonomous delivery robots would be forgiving for thinking they were props from any 80’s sci-fi film. Whether we like it or not it seems they are going to be the norm sooner rather than later. The era of social distancing and its longer term impact has certainly made a stronger case for this technology. For years we have seen many different prototypes of autonomous delivery robots serving a wide range of sectors. Companies ranging from Amazon and Piaggio to Postmates and Boston Dynamics all have made considerable strides. So what does this mean for e-commerce?
Contactless delivery is a new language in our lexicon. Naturally, Amazon is already positioning itself at the forefront when it becomes mainstream. The e-commerce giant is currently in talks to acquire California based electric car start-up, Zoox. This acquisition is set to significantly reduce Amazon’s $38 billion 2019 delivery cost over time. In February, Amazon ordered 100,000 electric cars from Michigan based Riviani, company they have also invested in. As they did in the case of Kiva Systems, acquired in 2012 now known as Amazon Robotics. The technology is already being used at Amazon warehouses.
Generally, these robots seem like they would be crucial in reducing overall cost in e-commerce. The industry seems to agree as many fulfillment centers are embracing them. Locus Robotics makes autonomous robots specifically for warehouse use and it has attracted significant investment. With its $105 million total investment, they plan to invest more in R&D and expand into the European market. The mainstreaming of this technology has exciting repercussions for all in e-commerce and is a glimpse into the future.
Food is king
However, the food delivery businesses have been much more visible using this technology than other sectors. Restaurants in Europe and North America have been the earlier adaptors of this technologies. San Francisco based Starship technologies has been deploying some robot vehicles to deliver pizza in the US and the UK. This no contact delivery service has been free for healthcare workers in parts of the UK and the US. In Fairfax City, the company has also recently unveiled a robot food delivery service which allows residents to order from local restaurants and grocers. Earlier this year they have also started trailing robot deliveries at University campuses, partnering with France-based, Sodex Inc. The partnership began with George Mason University and was shortly followed by North Arizona University. When the partnership was announced, Starship stated its intention to expand to 100 university campuses by 2021.