Demystifying the Current State of Delivery Robots in 2020


Demand for autonomous delivery robots is skyrocketing during the pandemic.

Autonomous delivery robots are not new in today’s digital world. We have already seen such robots in use in urban areas, airports, universities, hotels and large corporate campuses delivering goods. As this robotics application is expected to revolutionize the last mile delivery systems, the adoption of delivery robots is relatively slower now. However, it is expected that increasing affordability and enhanced return on investment with improved flexibility and efficient automated fulfillment will drive the growing demand of autonomous delivery robots in the coming years.

In the current world scenario where people are advised to follow physical distancing, organizations of all sizes across diverse industries may have restrained to perform business as usual due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In such a scenario, robotic delivery services can promise contactless delivery, fulfilling customer needs by following mandates of social distancing.

Starship Technologies, for instance, launched a robot food delivery service in Tempe, Arizona, as part of the autonomous delivery startup’s expansion plans following a US$40 million funding round announced in August 2019. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced traditional businesses like restaurants to close and put more pressure on the gig economy workforce, the company has an opportunity to expedite that growth. The company’s autonomous robots, which can deliver up to 20 pounds, became an inevitable solution as people seek ways to get groceries and food without having to visit stores in person.

On the other hand, Instacart, an American company that operates a grocery delivery and pick-up service, reported 98 percent growth in sales, while Amazon Fresh sales reached 68 percent, as of March 2020. While this is the perfect time for delivery robots funded by over US$1 billion in venture capital in recent years, experts perceive that such robots are not quite ready to always operate without human assistance. As noted by Wired, some robot makers are using the surge of interest during the pandemic to test and demonstrate their tech in new ways. To this context, Starship Technologies said that it has launched its smallish, sidewalk-traversing delivery robots in five new places in the US since shelter-in-place orders hit, bringing its total number of deployments to 12.


Food and Medical Needs Soaring Delivery Robot

In the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, autonomous robotic vehicles are making contactless deliveries to people shelter in place. In China, Self-driving vehicle provider UDI delivered food using autonomous vans. UDI has been operating a small fleet of vehicles in Zibo and two other cities, Suzhou and Shenzhen since February, where they deliver meal boxes to checkpoint workers and spray disinfectants near hospitals. Conversely, Chinese company also used autonomous delivery systems by resembling mini electric vans to make medical deliveries during the outbreak.

Recently, e-commerce giant Amazon has made headlines for its R&D investment in autonomous delivery in the UK. The company already completed a successful test run of autonomous delivery robots (Amazon Scout) to complete last-mile delivery in Washington and then launched in Southern California in 2019. 

According to the report, the global market of delivery robots is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 19.15 percent from US$11.9 million in 2018 to US$34.0 million by 2024.

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