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FedEx/Nuro Tie-Up Shows The Last Mile Belongs To Robots And Autonomous Vehicles

In journeying the last mile, and getting goods where they need to go on the last stretch of transportation — to Point B, as in “points A to B” — the nod is increasingly toward the robots, or toward automation in general. Recent announcements underscore the use of advanced technologies in streamlining the last mile, and in satisfying consumers’ demand for ever-shorter delivery times.

To that end, on Tuesday (June 15), FedEx said it had entered into a multi-year agreement with Nuro to test the latter’s autonomous delivery vehicles as part of the shipping and logistic giant’s operations. The joint efforts began in April with a pilot in the Houston area, where the focus had been on deploying the Nuro technology in various multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries.

Nuro has been in the news in recent months, as spotlighted in this space. In April, the company said it was partnering with Domino’s to deliver pizzas in Houston. And in March, Chipotle Mexican Grill said it had invested in Nuro as part of the firm’s Series C funding round. The FedEx announcement is a nod to using the R2 robot for parcel (read: non-food/meal) delivery. Last year, the R2 last year took its place as the first to be granted a regulatory exemption from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The vehicle, per Nuro, is “built to carry packages instead of people.” Because they do not carry people, the vehicles have more cargo space, which in turn can improve the efficiencies of the last mile.

Keep on Truckin’

In another example of efficiencies wrought by autonomous vehicles, as reported by CNBC, the autonomous vehicle company TuSimple said last month that its self-driving trucks cut a long haul of fresh watermelons from Arizona to Oklahoma, in a 950-mile drive that took 14 hours rather than the usual 24 hours. The test was done in collaboration between TuSimple partners Giumarra, a produce grower and distributor, and the Associated Wholesale Grocers (there was a human driver along for the trip most of the time, in part to satisfy regulations).

eCommerce giant Alibaba is in the midst of developing self-driving trucks in tandem with its logistics subsidiary, Cainiao, according to Reuters. The logistics arm is also seeking to deploy 1,000 delivery robots in China within the next 12 months.

The delivery windows are indeed getting smaller, which may open the door even wider for robotics and automation. In one example, the United Postal Service (UPS) has announced it is conducting new same-day delivery pilots. In other headlines spotlighting the fast turnaround between placing an order and receiving it on the doorstep, Instacart announced Priority Delivery, which promises 30-minute delivery in 15 U.S. cities.

As reported by PYMNTS, separately, Berlin-based unicorn e-grocery startup Gorillas announced that it would bring 10-minute grocery delivery services to New York City.

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