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Delivery Robots: Automated urban delivery vehicles revamping the future of delivery

FEB 06, 2024 | Nikita Singh| Joydeep Bhattacharyya
region: ALL Transportation & StorageRetail & WholesaleAccommodation & Food Service Internet of ThingsArtificial IntelligenceAutonomous Robotic Systems

Transforma Insights’ recent report, 'Delivery Robots: 4.7 million automated urban delivery vehicles by 2032’ estimates that by 2032, the total number of delivery robots will reach 4.7 million and the market will grow at a CAGR of 64% between 2022-2032. This blog outlines the concept of delivery robots, explores their characteristics and key drivers, examines the evolving consumer perception of these robots, identifies potential obstacles to their market expansion, and delves into the pivotal role that e-commerce companies play in shaping their future adoption.

What are delivery robots and what are their features?

Delivery robots are semi or fully autonomous, small-sized delivery vehicles that can travel on roads and pavements to deliver food, beverages, retail items, documents, and other goods. These robots can also be monitored and controlled remotely by human operators if needed and are mostly suitable for last-mile deliveries.

Delivery robots are similar to autonomous road vehicles and use satellite navigation systems and computer vision to navigate. Equipped with radars, ultrasonic sensors, and neural networks to prevent collisions, these robots rely on machine learning algorithms to adjust speed and movement patterns on sidewalks. Through continuous learning, they develop a digital map for efficient navigation and swift deliveries. Because of the requirements for real-time interaction with the environment, including navigation and collision avoidance, delivery robots are a prime example of an Internet of Things application that needs to support edge computing.

Cost-effectiveness and sustainability driving the adoption of delivery robots

Increasing demand for last-mile deliveries has increased both transportation costs and emissions and it is estimated that last-mile deliveries alone cause 20% of pollution in cities and account for 40% of the total cost of delivery. Compared to traditional delivery methods, delivery robots are fairly cost-effective, sustainable, and time-saving solutions. Starship Technologies, a leading manufacturer of delivery robots has stated that it is targeting to bring down the operational cost of delivery robots to USD1-2 per delivery trip. Its internal study (from April 2018 to November 2021) also found that 280,000 car trips were avoided by the use of delivery robots, saving 137 tons of CO2 and 22kg of Nitrogen dioxide, and reduced 23kg of PM10 and 12kg of PM2.57 in the air.

Delivery robots are typically used to deliver goods across one to three miles and have been designed to operate in an energy efficient way. These robots can deliver goods from grocery stores, supermarkets, take-away food points, and restaurants accurately and quickly to reduce carbon footprint from conventional delivery methods like delivery trucks. As these robots learn more about the environment, they become fairly autonomous and can easily navigate in densely populated areas making them more cost-effective when compared to other delivery options such as drones and delivery trucks. Delivery robots also minimise road wear and tear contributing to the sustainability of urban infrastructure.

Changing consumer acceptance towards delivery robots

While tech-savvy consumers are more accepting of new approaches such as delivery robots, generally people favour traditional delivery persons with which they are more familiar. However, we expect user acceptance to gradually grow. While there was some resistance towards drones and delivery robots we anticipate that as delivery speed increases and delivery prices decrease, the likelihood of accepting delivery robots will increase as well.

What could hinder the growth of the delivery robots market?

Delivery robots are mostly slower in speed (usually having a speed of around 5mph) when compared to their counterparts, drones and delivery motorcycles. They are preferably deployed within a small, pre-mapped radius such as corporate offices, college campuses, and in some newly constructed communities with wide sidewalks. In most cases, delivery robots are inflexible and cannot understand human interactions, and hence, they have to be monitored remotely, to help them navigate in a densely populated area and prevent theft and vandalism issues.

The technology has a few drawbacks that have emerged, particularly since the increase in the availability of alternative last-mile delivery solutions such as cargo bikes and scooters. Delivery robots require regular recharging and continuous connectivity, remote monitoring in some cases, and the robots must be able to withstand harsh environments such as water submersion, vibration, and varying temperatures. The demand has also been low in cities with crowded sidewalks, with consumers having access to other solutions such as drones and autonomous freight vehicles for on-road deliveries. These vehicles can operate in a relatively complex environment and serve a longer delivery range, unlike delivery robots.

Another potential barrier to their adoption is the lack of laws governing this transportation and delivery mode. For instance, delivery robots can be legally operated in only a limited number of locations across the US and Europe. At the end of 2022, approximately 23 states in the US had given some type of law governing delivery robots. While no state has banned their usage, their development and proliferation is still under scrutiny.

Adoption of delivery robots to be shaped by e-commerce firms

A lot of organisations have reflected on the cost and benefits of last-mile deliveries and many of them have reduced their research spending after failing to meet the required economies of scale. Companies such as Amazon, FedEx, and Uber have spun off their delivery robot projects citing multiple reasons including not meeting near-term value requirements, reduction in research spending, and others. The delivery strategy of e-commerce firms adopting last-mile delivery robots will play a crucial role in their adoption in future, particularly in North America and Europe, and their current opinion on the feasibility of delivery robots is an indicator of their future success.

Conclusion: Hang in there, delivery robots!

To sum up, delivery robots are emerging as transformative solutions for last-mile deliveries. Their integration of advanced technologies like satellite navigation, computer vision, and machine learning positions them as promising assets. Despite challenges such as recharging requirements and legal constraints, these robots have proven benefits, including cost-effectiveness, sustainability, and time efficiency. They represent a future of efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective last-mile deliveries, transforming the landscape of logistics with their advanced technologies and enhancing

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