FedEx’s new autonomous delivery bot has iBot wheelchair DNA

FedEx is a courier delivery and logistics company; and in 2019, that means it must also have an autonomous delivery bot.

The delivery services company, known for its overnight shipping, unveiled Wednesday an autonomous delivery device called SameDay Bot. The bot, which will be tested this summer in select markets, including FedEx’s hometown Memphis, is being developed in collaboration with DEKA Development & Research Corp. and its founder Dean Kamen, who invented the Segway and iBot wheelchair.

FedEx is working with AutoZone, Lowe’s, Pizza Hut, Target, Walgreens and Walmart to figure out how this whole autonomous bot business might actually function. The idea, FedEx says, is to provide a way for retailers to accept orders from nearby customers and deliver them by bot directly to customers’ homes or businesses the same day.

The initial test will involve deliveries between selected FedEx Office locations, the company said. Ultimately, the FedEx bot will complement the FedEx SameDay City service, which operates in 32 markets and 1,900 cities.

The underlying roots of the SameDay Bot is the iBot, one of Kamen’s inventions. DEKA built upon the power base of the iBot, an FDA-approved mobility device for the disabled population, to develop FedEx’s product. And Kamen clearly sees this partnership with FedEx as another way to help push the iBot forward.

“The bot has unique capabilities that make it unlike other autonomous vehicles,” Kamen said. “We built upon the power base of the iBot, an advanced, FDA-approved, mobility device for the disabled population with more than 10 million hours of reliable, real-world operation. By leveraging this base in an additional application, we hope that the iBot will become even more accessible to those who need it for their own mobility.”

The FedEx bot is equipped with sensing technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras, which when combined with machine learning algorithms should allow the device to detect and avoid obstacles and plot a safe path, all while following the rules of the road (or sidewalk).

FedEx says the proprietary technology is the secret sauce that makes the bot highly capable and allows it to navigate unpaved surfaces, curbs and even steps for an extraordinary door-to-door delivery experience. That’s an important feature for businesses and their customers, who might not want or be physically able to fetch a package at the bottom of stairs.

FedEx’s move follows the march of other like-minded logistics and delivery companies such as Postmates and Amazon.

Postmates developed Serve, a new cooler-meet-autonomous-stroller. In January, Amazon took the wraps off its six-wheeled robot, Scout. Then there are all the private companies developing autonomous delivery bots, including Nuro, Robby and Starship.