Delivery Robots Show Promise in Supply Chain Management and Logistics

delivery robotsWith competition for more efficient and effective warehouse management and supply chain management solutions on the rise, the topic of autonomous delivery robots is increasingly being seen as a potentially disruptive force for retail deliveries.

Innovation by robotics and drone companies continues at a torrid pace.   At the same time, some delivery companies and logistics firms are conducting tests, or unveiling early production models, to identify areas where robots can best be used to assist in delivering goods to customers.  Others are looking specifically at the possibility of using versions of robots and aerial drones to deliver goods as part of last-mile delivery initiatives.  The possibilities are virtually endless, with testing occurring for deliveries ranging from small packages to deliveries of 500 pounds or more.

While some delivery robots use operators or are semi-autonomous, several industry visionaries are focusing their efforts on fully autonomous variants, which may account for over half of last-mile deliveries by the middle of the next decade.   Still, there are obstacles that must be overcome if there is to be an inflection point in the market and growth is to continue.  Several challenges, such as delivering goods in sub-optimal conditions, such as in rain, snow, icy weather, in conjested areas, or over irregular terrain, must be solved and overcome.

Companies like Amazon, DHL, UPS, and Walmart, as well as other robotics, logistics, and supply chain management organizations, have been experimenting with robots and drones to deliver various goods.   The desire to move goods and parcels quickly and efficiently, particularly when delivering to the last mile, is a primary motivator for investments in these technologies.

This strong interest in enabling technologies has introduced some new and novel ideas to consider.  For example, Amazon has been granted a patent for a delivery drone that can respond to human gestures, which could be used to communicate to incoming drones.  The concept is part of Amazon’s goal to develop a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles that can get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

The patent may help Amazon better understand how flying robots might interact with human bystanders and customers waiting on their doorsteps.  Depending on a person’s gestures or actions, drones could conceivably respond to these commands.  Examples could include the waving of arms, displaying a welcoming thumbs-up, or shouting, the drone can adjust its behavior.  The drone could then release the package that it’s carrying, altering its flight path to avoid crashing, ask humans a question, or aborting the delivery.

Companies in a wide variety of industries and market segments, including retail stores, restaurants, pharmacies, and healthcare organizations are considering the use of delivery robots as a way to improve customer service and differentiate themselves to their customer base.  In the not-too-distant future, we may see delivery robots bring packages, groceries, pizzas, and even laundry to our doorsteps.