From drones to robot droids

By Eduard Lazar on 30th November 2018

The team and I were at Tech Retail Week UK few months back and we found ourselves wondering – what’s next in delivery?

We often hear disagreeing narratives about the future of delivery but the reality is change is on the horizon. The good news is that new innovations can help drive efficiency, cut costs and keep pace with growing customer demand for convenience and variety.

Whether it’s a driverless car, a droid robot or a drone, these futuristic delivery options currently being developed and tested have the potential to enormously help your business. They may not be widely available to businesses just yet but they are probably not as far away as you think. Let’s take a look at how new and innovative delivery options are set to reshape last mile delivery.



Once considered a pie in the sky idea, commercial drone delivery is now looking like a viable option in the very near future. One of the biggest benefits this will offer retailers is increasing levels of efficiency. Drones have the ability to help businesses streamline delivery time and speed. Unlike traditional methods of delivery, drones are not compliant or beholden to existing infrastructure. In the sky they have the ability to travel along the most direct route, avoiding things like traffic congestion and roadworks. 

In small trials, we’ve seen how drones can reduce delivery time significantly. For example, in Iceland the on demand delivery service Flytrex has used its drones to bridge two parts of the city separated by a large bay. The company used a regulated route to deliver packages from one side of the bay to the other and led to delivery times being cut from half an hour to minutes. 

At this stage, human involvement is still required to help Flytrex fulfil the delivery from the designated delivery landing area to the customer’s doorstep. Yet in the near future, it is expected drones will have the capability to independently drop off a delivery to its final destination.

In a population of less than 125,000 and void of skyscrapers, Reykjavik seems like a natural fit for drones. But in major cities like London, where regulations are tight, there is still more work to do on how retailers can successfully introduce drones into last mile delivery.


Image: via FlyTrex

Droid Robots

Currently, extreme weather conditions have the power to stop or delay traditional delivery methods in their tracks. Yet through new delivery tools and technologies we’re already seeing the first signs of how this could change in the future. 

The droid robots from Starship Technologies, which are designed to travel unaided while being monitored by human operators, use cameras, sensors and other technology to navigate their way through the streets, avoid obstacles and cross roads safely. 

Earlier this year in the UK during Storm Emma, when temperatures dropped to as low as -11°C and traditional delivery methods were paused, droid robots were successfully able to make way through the snow and deliver meal orders.In the future when it’s too icy to get bikes or even cars on the road, retailers can look to these new delivery tools and technologies to fulfil delivery. 


Autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs)

In the next 5 years’ new innovations such as autonomous ground vehicles (AGVs) mean your next parcel could be delivered by a robot. AGVs are designed to deliver packages without any human intervention, a key reason why they are estimated to have cost advantages of 40% over traditional last mile delivery methods

In a pilot program run by supermarket chain Ocado, it was clear their AGV called the ‘CargoPod’ had the potential to cut costs for the retailer. Compared to Ocado’s traditional delivery methods, the CargroPod service is quicker, cheaper, and possible to scale up much more quickly as it does not require an army of employees to run. 

The service, however, does have its downsides. The CargoPod holds less boxes than Ocado’s current vans and the service requires customers to leave the house to pick up delivery. Unless the crucial missing ingredient of the ‘doorstep interaction’ is managed properly, AGVs like the CargoPod could face an uphill battle winning over customers. 

Despite these challenges, it’s likely as more people begin to recognise the potential value of AGVs, regulations will ease and these services will become more widely available to the public. To what scale, we’ll have to wait and see. 


Image: The Guardian

Electric vehicles 

As cities around the world prioritise how they can lower their emissions, it makes sense clean vehicles will be amongst the first technologies to achieve significant adoption. In London, the city has introduced an ultra-low emission zone which will kick off in 2019. Alongside growing customer demand for eco-friendly delivery solutions, this has forced companies to act. As a result businesses such as UPS have launched a fleet of 170 electric vehicles.

Thanks to dropping technology costs and product development, UPS is approaching the point where the cost of deploying an electric vehicle will match or beat deploying a diesel car. When this happens expect an even greater level of adoption of electric vehicles for delivery purposes.

UPS_Electric Vehicles

Image: Via The New York Times

Next steps

The wide spread proliferation and adoption of last mile delivery innovations such as drones, droid robots and driverless vehicles has not arrived just yet. What we do know is that day is fast approaching. And when it does, retailers need to be ready to use these new innovations to their advantage.

That’s why we keep up to date with the latest changes in last mile delivery. So if your business wants to know more about what’s next, get in touch with the team and we’ll help you out.


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