Parcel carrier and logistics provider FedEx Corp. is continuing to explore the use of mid-sized autonomous vehicles for last-mile package delivery, announcing today it is conducting a multi-year test of equipment from Nuro, a five-year-old robotics startup.
The two companies have been working together since April to test autonomous, multi-stop, and appointment-based delivery operations in Houston, using Mountain View, California-based Nuro’s “R2” model autonomous vehicle, which looks like an aerodynamic golf cart designed to drive itself along local roads.
While most of the spotlight on self-driving technologies focuses on car vendors like Waymo and Tesla, similar platforms are also being developed for full-size freight trucks from TuSimple and Embark, and for local parcel delivery bots from Marble and from Starship Technologies.
While Nuro has been testing its self-driving technology for nearly five years in the grocery, restaurant, and pharmacy verticals, this pilot program marks the firm’s expansion into parcel logistics. For Memphis-based FedEx, the new vehicle design marks the latest addition to the company’s portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices. For example, FedEx has been testing since 2020 an autonomous last mile delivery vehicle known as “Roxo,” built on an iBot base from Deka Research.
FedEx says it is expanding its tests of these delivery bots in response to exponential growth of e-commerce that has accelerated demand for reliable, autonomous solutions throughout all stages of the supply chain. The company says its goal is to use that automation to improve safety, efficiency, and productivity for its 570,000 employees.
In a blog post, Nuro cited similar goals, saying that “Nuro’s technology can help improve the daily experience of FedEx’s team members, taking on inefficient deliveries, finding new ways to move parcels, and adding new capacity to support rapidly growing demand.” In addition to creating those efficiencies, Nuro said its vehicles would improve convenience for FedEx customers, letting them avoid tasks like driving to a store, sitting in traffic, waiting in line to send a package, or wondering when a package will arrive.
Despite the promise of those improved conditions, truck drivers unions have some concerns about the rise of driverless vehicles. In May, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) issued a statement pushing Congress to create stricter regulations over autonomous cars and trucks. In addition to citing safety concerns, the unions said they are wary of the effect of autonomous trucks on the supply of drivers’ jobs, saying millions of workers could have their jobs “replaced or fundamentally altered by” automation.
We’re teaming up with @nurobots to advance last-mile logistics with autonomous vehicles, the latest addition to our portfolio of autonomous same-day and specialty delivery devices.
Learn more: https://t.co/NlrOMfDyqV pic.twitter.com/3cGEVO1CkW
— FedEx (@FedEx) June 15, 2021