Delivery bots will own the sidewalk

Sidewalk delivery robots, a novelty for now, are multiplying: FedEx is joining Amazon, Starship Technologies and others with plans to unleash an army of bots for deliveries.

Why it matters: Autonomous vehicles are typically envisioned on streets but small delivery robots could outnumber U.S. taxis in 20 years, KPMG says. This could help relieve congestion on roadways but potentially create new headaches for pedestrians.

The big picture: E-commerce is surging, along with consumer expectations for fast, cheap delivery of goods and services. Dispatching small bots for nearby runs, instead of traditional vehicles with a driver, could make delivery practically free, at 4 to 7 cents per mile, according to KPMG.

  • 20%–25% of consumers would pick same-day or instant delivery if it were cheaper, compared to roughly 1% who do so today, a McKinsey study found.
  • To get all those purchases to doorsteps quickly, it’ll take anywhere from 300,000 to 1 million bots, per KPMG.
  • By comparison, there are 300,o00 taxis and 1 million buses on U.S. roads.

What’s new: FedEx will begin testing an autonomous delivery robot this summer in 3 cities, including its hometown, Memphis.

  • The company will work with retailers to help them fulfill their customers’ same-day orders.
  • Initial parters are AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart.

Details: The battery-powered FedEx SameDay Bot is being developed with DEKA Development & Research Corp., whose founder, Dean Kamen, created the Segway and the iBot stair-climbing wheelchair.

  • The FedEx bot shares the same basic underpinnings as the wheelchair so it, too, can climb stairs and traverse rough pavement.
  • It can travel on sidewalks or in bike lanes next to the road.
  • Like other AVs, it’s outfitted with multiple cameras providing a 360-degree view, plus lidar and other sensors, to understand its surroundings and plot its path.

Yes, but: Pedestrians already have to contend with hundreds of scooters in their cities — now they’ll have to share the sidewalks with delivery bots as well.

  • It’s not easy for people to smoothly navigate crowded sidewalks without bumping into other people, urban planner Renia Ehrenfeucht told Scientific American.
  • “Until delivery robots are that skilled, if they could be, they will be disruptive,” Ehrenfeucht tells SA.
  • FedEx chief marketing officer Brie Carere tells Axios she remains optimistic that bots will earn the public trust by being courteous to people walking dogs or parents pushing strollers, for example.

The bottom line: As delivery demand grows, autonomous delivery vehicles are likely to proliferate as the cheapest, easiest way for people to get their food and other must-have-now items.

“There’s an abundance of demand out there and we think this device is far more efficient than using a one-ton vehicle to deliver a one-pound product.”

Brie Carere

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Ford and VW could share custody of Argo AI

Ford and Volkswagen are negotiating a 50-50 autonomous-driving joint venture that would include VW investing up to $1.7 billion in Ford’s AV unit, Argo AI, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: Global automakers are hedging their bets on electric and self-driving cars by pooling resources as they try to cope with massive shifts away from polluting combustion engines and traditional models of car ownership.

Background: In January, the two carmakers formed a global alliance to develop commercial vans and medium-sized pickups together and said they would explore broader cooperation on future vehicles, including electric vehicles and AVs.

After months of talks, WSJ reports that the 2 car makers have agreed to make Argo the nucleus of an equally held joint venture that could receive additional assets from Volkswagen over time.

  • Volkswagen would provide nearly $600 million as an equity investment in Argo venture, which WSJ says is about half of what Ford initially sought.
  • VW would provide another $1.1 billion in working capital for R&D.
  • Audi’s Autonomous Intelligent Driving group and VW’s mobility-services business called Moia could be part of the JV, but would likely remain separate from Argo, per WSJ.

Nothing is final, as with all deals, so stay tuned for more details.

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The race to become the all-in-one transport app

As new transportation options like bike and scooter rental services proliferate, ride-hailing companies are rushing to outfit their mobile apps with as many services as possible, including public transit, Axios’ Kia Kokalitcheva writes.

My thought bubble: One day, robotaxis will be added to that multi-modal transportation system. Uber and Lyft, which are developing AV tech, will likely add them to the mix of their app offerings, too.

Yes, but: They still have to compete with Google Maps — the 800-pound gorilla in this realm, and also their business partner.

Background: For years, both Uber’s and Lyft’s U.S. apps offered only their various car ride services.

  • With the boom in bike and scooter rentals last year, both companies started adding new transportation options to their apps — even acquiring companies in some cases.
  • Uber bought Jump scooters, and Lyft acquired bike-sharing operator Motivate.
  • Uber has also experimented with car rentals via a partnership with startup Getaround, though it recently suspended a pilot rental service for Uber riders.
  • In September, Lyft started adding public transit information in its app, now available in a handful of cities, while Uber made its first foray last month, starting with Denver.

The big picture: Expanding their apps’ services only makes these companies’ relationships with Google Maps more complicated.

The bottom line: Uber and Lyft have an opportunity to broaden their apps’ value by integrating more information and services with them. But they’ll have to improve fast to best Google and persuade users that their apps are good for more than summoning a car.

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Driving the conversation

Sign of confidence: Waymo self-driving cars can now respond to traffic cops’ hand signals (Jake Holmesv — CNET Road Show)

  • Why it matters: Waymo’s ability to interpret a tricky situation — a police officer directing traffic at an intersection with a broken stop light — is more proof that millions of miles of testing can help prepare AVs for those rare anomalies that engineers call “edge cases.”

Electric utilities: Fiat Chrysler to invest $4.5 billion in Michigan for new Jeep SUV models (Nick Carey — Reuters)

  • Between the lines: Though lost in the news about a new three-row SUV and 6,500 new jobs, part of the investment plan is to add hybrid and battery-electric powertrains to Jeep SUVs. Last year, FCA signaled plans for 10 plug-in hybrid and 4 battery-electric Jeeps by 2022.

French accent: France’s Peugeot set to make American return after 30-year absence (Paul A. Eistenstein — CNBC)

  • The big picture: The return of Peugeot-brand vehicles marks the next step in Groupe PSA’s 10-year plan to re-establish itself in the critical North American market, beginning with mobility services.
  • Its Free2Move car-sharing service launched in D.C. last year and also offers peer-to-peer car rental at airports in L.A. and other cities.
  • Like Uber and Lyft in Kia’s story above, Free2Move aims to schedule multi-modal travel— everything from bicycle rentals to train tickets and car-sharing.

 

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The world’s Autonomous Vehicles leadership

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AVs are still a long ways off, but some countries are more ready than others for their deployment, based on technology advancements, government policies and other factors, according to a KPMG report.

The big picture: The United States, home to many of the world’s leading AV companies, ranks fourth in AV readiness behind the Netherlands, Singapore and Norway.

  • Why? The U.S. lacks a national approach to AV policy and has done less to create the infrastructure to support AVs.
  • The Netherlands, in contrast, already leads in EV charging and plans to add autonomous truck platoons, 5G-connected vehicles and smart traffic lights.
  • KPMG compared 25 metrics in four categories to compile its second annual AV readiness index.

The bottom line: “The most successful countries have a policy framework that enables innovation, a strong track record in technology, high-quality road and digital infrastructure, and populations that are eager to adopt new technologies,” per KPMG.

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