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Manchester, NH partners with FedEx to test AI delivery bot

The city adjusted transportation ordinances to help pilot an autonomous same-day delivery service.

Public Private Partnership (PPP)Autonomous VehicleMobility / Applications
Newsworthy
Delivering the Future: FedEx Unveils Autonomous Delivery Robot
MEMPHIS, Tenn., February 27, 2019—FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) announced today a development in cutting-edge delivery solutions to meet the rapidly changing needs of consumers — the FedEx SameDay Bot — an autonomous delivery device designed to help retailers make same-day and last-mile deliveries to their customers. With the bot, retailers will be able to accept …
FedEx Newsroom
FedEx unveils autonomous delivery robot - The Verge
FedEx is getting into the autonomous delivery robot game with the FedEx SameDay Bot. The technology is still in the prototype stage, but first trials will take place this summer in Memphis.
The Verge
FedEx launches pilot program for delivery robot
FedEx has launched the first pilot program for its new same-day-delivery robot, named Roxo, in Manchester.
WMUR
Roxo the robot delivers its first package in historic partnership with FedEx and Kamen's DEKA | Manchester Ink Link
One small delivery for a robot; one giant leap for the technological future of mankind.
Manchester Ink Link
Highlights
  • Roxo, an autonomous AI-powered robot was introduced by FedEx to offer short-distance same day delivery.
  • FedEx partnered with Manchester, NH-based DEKA to develop the robot based on an existing iBOT wheelchair frame.
  • The City of Manchester was tapped to pilot the robots, and temporarily adjusted its rules against driving on sidewalks to support the test.
  • Partnering with the private sector to test new products can set cities up for solutions to new challenges, such as preserving retail sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Project Summary
Need something from Target or Walgreens ASAP, but don’t want to go to a store to get it? Or craving a pizza but have concerns about the environmental impact of delivery by car? FedEx is developing a robot for that.
Roxo, FedEx’s autonomous robot, was introduced in 2019 to broaden the company’s same-day delivery service. The city of Manchester, NH partnered with a local corporation and the Memphis-based delivery giant to pilot the new technology, setting the stage for advancements in contactless, emission-free delivery within the community.

Faster, Greener, and More Localized Deliveries

Retailers and delivery companies from Amazon to startups like Starship Technologies have been experimenting with automated solutions to reduce delivery time, and lower emissions caused by traditional truck service.
FedEx has focused its innovation on local deliveries, knowing the market for short-distance purchases was significant. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a large percentage of retail delivery was being done close to home, notes the company:
Now that demand for contactless deliveries has increased due to health concerns, same-day autonomous delivery devices could play a major role in jumpstarting local retail.

Meet Roxo, the FedEx Robot

When it’s rolling down the street (or making its debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon), Roxo looks a bit like a mini refrigerator on wheels. The machine is roughly chest-height next to a person, with a white rectangular container body set on a solid base of wheels.
The inspiration for the device came from iBOT, a standing wheelchair that can climb stairs, which is produced by Dean Kamen’s Manchester-based company DEKA Research and Development Corp. (Kamen is also well-known for another mobility invention: the Segway.)
FedEx partnered with DEKA to build its new delivery solution using the wheelchair’s base, which has three pairs of wheels that can be used on stairs and curbs. The partnership was a win-win for FedEx and DEKA: an innovative approach to solving same-day delivery challenges, plus an opportunity to mass-produce (and therefore make more accessible) the iBOT wheelchair base. Says Kamen:
Beyond the base, a mix of LIDAR sensors and cameras keeps Roxo aware of its surroundings, and machine learning helps the robot adapt to different road conditions, such as unpaved surfaces, puddles, or pedestrians.
The main compartment can carry up to 100 pounds of packages. The robot travels up to 10 miles per hour and runs on battery power, allowing for a zero-emissions delivery.

Revisiting City Laws to Allow Innovation

Thanks to the partnership between DEKA and FedEx, DEKA’s home city of Manchester was tapped as the pilot location for the new device. To support the trial, the city worked to temporarily adjust city rules, suspending an ordinance that prevented driving on sidewalks.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig declared that the project helped position Manchester as a leader in innovation:
After debuting in Manchester, the bot tests have expanded to other cities around the world, including FedEx’s hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, where the city worked with FedEx to establish pre-approved testing routes and safety requirements. Pilots were also conducted in Plano and Frisco, Texas, which are home to FedEx Office and a large distribution center, respectively; and Dubai.
Not every city has welcomed Roxo with open arms and regulations — New York City had similar traffic rules to Manchester, but opted not to adjust the laws for a pilot, and instead ordered the robots to be removed from city streets. San Francisco, while not specifically involved in Roxo pilots, had previously banned robots from its sidewalks, but later revised the rules to allow for testing under a specific set of permits.

Takeaways

FedEx expects to roll out Roxo at scale later in 2020, once final bugs are worked out. The company already has lined up partners from CVS to McDonalds to AutoZone, and this list is likely to grow.
Now, as COVID-19 impacts local business and drives demand for more delivery-based shopping, cities like Manchester that have piloted Roxo (or other autonomous delivery technology) may have an unexpected advantage: they've already laid the groundwork for easy adoption of the devices. They’ve had the opportunity to experiment with the technology. They’ve learned what safety restrictions need to be implemented or changed. They’ve tested which intersections or surfaces may be difficult. And they’ve already made citizens familiar with the sight of robots rolling through their city.
By partnering with the private sector and participating in innovative technology pilots like FedEx’s delivery robot, cities like Manchester are in a better position to adopt new solutions and react to evolving community needs.

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Lindsay Pica-Alfano

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