Few topics carry more weight than the idea of autonomous trucking in final mile delivery service. While experts continue to debate the risk versus benefit of drones on the road and in the air for logistics purposes, companies across the US are actively working to develop and deploy the technologies in real-world settings. In fact, shippers that have been following this topic for the past few years need to know a few new bits of information that have come to light in recent months.
FedEx and Microsoft Team up to Beat Amazon
This is the most recent change affecting the use of economist final mile delivery services. It is a partnership between FedEx and Microsoft, and while it does not center on the use of drones as a driving principle, it does allude to the potential use of drones in actual delivery much faster than the original reports of FedEx drone tests. According to USA Today, Amazon is at more risk than companies realize as FedEx combines with logistics power with the technology and resources at Microsoft.
Final Mile Management: A Shipper’s 30,000 Foot View
FedEx can now deploy its planned arsenal of drones to deliver packages in the final mile with more technology-driven know-how through this partnership. Obviously, the goals of the partnership also derive from the increased need for more capabilities from the logistics and tech giant—following the COVID-19 crisis. However, the partnership is a clear attempt to push Amazon further into retreat and capture a larger share of the e-commerce market.
Amazon Puts the Brakes on Its Final Mile Fleet and Carrier Services for Now
Part of the rationale for the FedEx-Microsoft partnership is not as surprising given Amazon’s recent moves. As the COVID-19 pandemic began, Amazon quickly put the brakes on its carrier services. Now, this does not mean that Amazon stopped deliveries for its own packages. Instead, Amazon stopped offering logistics services for other companies, so the change doesn’t affect as many people as meets the eye. With that in mind, it signals blood in the water, and amid the current pandemic, Amazon’s future is uncertain. However, the increased demand on e-commerce will not only threaten Amazon; it will provide a push to kick the company into hyperdrive—using more capital to fund its growing empire and becoming a bigger threat to other supply chains in the future.
FedEx Continues Tests for Final Block Drone Delivery
In early 2019, FedEx began testing its final mile delivery service capabilities and started to enter the autonomous robotics delivery forum. As reported by the Verge, FedEx is continuing its work to test and use the “FedEx SameDay Bot, which it says could help make “last mile” deliveries more efficient.
The SameDay Bot is battery-powered, has a top speed of 10 mph, and is autonomous, meaning it can steer itself around pedestrians and traffic using a combination of LIDAR sensors like those found in self-driving cars and regular cameras.
FedEx says it will initially use the bot to courier packages between the company’s offices in its headquarters in Memphis. But if these trials are successful it wants to expand the service to other companies and retailers, eventually making robots a standard part of its same-day delivery service.”
Now, FedEx did successfully deliver some packages in the final mile, but those might be further classified as final block. Since it is a battery powered drone on wheels, it inevitably cannot go as far. However, it does harken back to the notion of using drones to complete in-neighborhood deliveries from a central delivery van and reducing the total miles driven in the final mile.
UPS Gets the All-Clear to Use Drone Delivery From the FAA
Another piece of noteworthy information surrounding drones comes from UPS. While FedEx did begin test flights for lightweight package final mile delivery service in Virginia last fall, UPS has a clear advantage. UPS is now the first official company to receive approval from the FAA for the use of commercial aerial drones for final mile delivery service. According to CNBC, “the approval is a milestone in commercial drone delivery, with companies including Amazon, Uber and Google parent Alphabet, under its Wing Aviation unit, racing to add unmanned aircraft to their fleets to save on costs and deliver goods faster.”
Locomation and Wilson Logistics Become the First Partnership to Use Autonomous Trucks on the Highway to Move Cargo
A new partnership between Locomation and Wilson Logistics is now the first in the country to let autonomous trucks lose on the highway without the safety of a driver in the cab, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Now, it is too risky to just let autonomous trucks lose on the highways, but this partnership involves something beyond a backup driver in the cab. A lead truck and driver provide the path for autonomous trucks—almost creating a train-like effect on the highway. The goal is to use multiple autonomous trucks to move more freight across common trade routes. However, this approach is only suited for full-truckload and less-than-truckload shipping at this point. Regardless, the innovative approach to the use of autonomous trucks is likely to push investment and legislation into driverless trucks to the forefront of the industry. As a result, drones will come to final mile delivery service much faster.
What’s Next as Drones Finally Mature in the Final Mile Delivery Sphere
Drones are finally approaching maturity, and it is only a matter of time before your next package is shipped by drone. However, the COVID-19 pandemic complicates the matter—creating a need for survival that goes beyond advancement. The irony is that until this pandemic, drones were on the table for 2020. Now, the resources needed for their use across the nation will likely not come to fruition until 2022 or later. With that in mind, the situation continues to evolve, and given the partnership formed between FedEx and Microsoft within the last 48 hours—this author would not be surprised to see drones on his street by year’s end.