Japanese robot tech firm ZMP Inc will start trials of its DeliRo delivery robot in August in central ... [+] Tokyo.Photo by ZMP Inc.
From Michigan to Tokyo, the coronavirus pandemic has led to a surge in demand for contactless delivery robots.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, lunch orders for Refraction AI’s last-mile REV-1 autonomous delivery robot have jumped by up to four-fold since the health crisis began. The company, which started operations in July 2019, created the robot for local deliveries between stores and customers. Residents in Ann Arbor, where the pilot program is now underway, can register for REV-1’s lunch delivery that offers cuisine from a variety of restaurants including Asian and Mexican.
Able to operate in the bike lane and on public roads, REV-1’s can travel at up to 15mph but will slow to a fast walking pace in residential areas. Delivery robots use deep-learning to correctly interpret data collected from on-board sensors, LiDAR and cameras to make intelligent decisions enabling cost-effective deliveries while avoiding pedestrians, cyclists, curbs, trees and lamp posts. They can even obey traffic lights.
Refraction AI's REV-1 robot delivers products in Ann Arbor.Photo by Refraction AI
Answering the need for deliveries that minimize human contact, other companies currently operating delivery robots include Amazon, Google, FedEx, Starship Technologies, Robomart and Kiwi whose robots have been delivering food since last year to students at over a dozen campuses nationwide like Harvard, Stanford and Cornell.
Meanwhile in Japan, the pandemic has led to an increase in the demand for services that reduce human contact and autonomous robots provide that answer. Japanese firms are now evaluating the potential of autonomous robots that can deliver products from nearby warehouses or shops to consumers.
In mid-August in central Tokyo, Japanese robot firm ZMP Inc. will start a trial run of its DeliRo autonomous robot to deliver soba noodle dishes to customers near the bustling Shinagawa train station. Customers will be able to place orders using a tablet, make cashless payments and have their food delivered by robot within a designated test area. Unlike the low traffic volume roads of suburban Ann Arbor, central Tokyo streets are far busier and present robots with considerable higher levels of traffic and obstacle challenges.
ZMP and other autonomous robot companies are experimenting with potential solutions to the increasing need for delivery services that promote social distancing while reducing human contact amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Able to cruise at speeds of up to 4mph, the large cooler-sized DeliRo, can carry a payload of 100 lbs and steer clear of obstacles using advanced autonomous driving technology.
The Japanese government is also lending its weight behind the development and employment of autonomous delivery services with the goal of alleviating the acute labor shortage being caused by the country’s rapidly aging population and low birth rate.
The government’s major task will be creating a traffic framework that regulates autonomous vehicles moving freely at walking pace because existing road laws do not cover them making it problematic to test on public roads.
Could self-driving delivery robots help to solve today’s multiple societal problems of the increasing need for contactless food and parcel deliveries, stressed labor markets, reducing business’s labor costs and lowering firm’s carbon footprints? The ball has been fairly and squarely thrown into the politician’s court to act and enable the necessary changes.