MANCHESTER — Robots could be rolling through downtown Manchester as soon as this summer, if aldermen sign off on a pilot program being pitched by officials with FedEx Corp.
A FedEx SameDay Bot rolled into City Hall Tuesday night as part of a presentation during a meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, promoting a bot-testing pilot program set to roll out in the Queen City this summer.
FedEx Corp. envisions using the box-shaped robots for deliveries in the not-too-distant future.
Aldermen voted unanimously to authorize city officials to work with FedEx personnel to develop a pilot program that adheres to local regulations and ordinances.
The courier is ready to begin testing a 4-foot, 2-inch tall delivery robot in Memphis, Tenn., Plano, Texas, and possibly Manchester, if it gets approval, as early as this summer. The battery-powered bot travels at 10 miles an hour, has a range of 8 miles and can navigate streets, sidewalks, curbs, potholes, dodge pedestrians and even take the steps up to a home’s front door.
FedEx developed its mobile robot with the help of DEKA Research & Development Corp., the group founded by Manchester inventor Dean Kamen — which helped the Queen City land the honor of being the third location for a pilot program.
The platform for the delivery device is Deka’s iBot, a motorized wheelchair that is capable of climbing stairs and has more than 10 million miles of operation by users.
“The bot has unique capabilities that make it unlike other autonomous vehicles,” said Kamen in a statement. “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.”
“It’s really quite amazing, and I’m really grateful you are choosing Manchester as one of the places for this pilot program,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “This showcases the great innovation that’s going on in our city.”
Six major retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens and Lowe’s, have signed on to try out the new bots.
The FedEx robot will be able to carry packages as heavy as 100 pounds and calculate the optimal route to a delivery destination. It’s equipped with sensors and cameras to help it find its way and avoid obstacles. The robot will signal to pedestrians, cyclists or motorists when it’s turning or stopping. If needed, it can even talk to people it encounters via speakers operated by a FedEx employee monitoring the robots remotely.
The device weighs about 200 pounds and can run two hours on a single charge.
Once the robot arrives at a home or business, the person receiving the package would use a code sent to their mobile device to open the robot’s compartment. The automated vehicle would be able to pick up merchandise for return as well.
“The FedEx SameDay Bot is an innovation designed to change the face of local delivery and help retailers efficiently address their customers’ rising expectations,” said Brie Carere, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx. “The bot represents a milestone in our ongoing mission to solve the complexities and expense of same-day, last-mile delivery for the growing e-commerce market in a manner that is safe and environmentally friendly.”
The bot is designed to travel on sidewalks and along roadsides, safely delivering smaller shipments to customers’ homes and businesses. Bot features include pedestrian-safe technology from the iBot, plus advanced technology such as LiDAR and multiple cameras, allowing the zero-emission, battery-powered bot to be aware of its surroundings. These features are coupled with machine-learning algorithms to detect and avoid obstacles, plot a safe path and allow the bot to follow road and safety rules, according to information provided by FedEx.
“The FedEx SameDay Bot represents the next chapter in our long legacy of delivering innovation and outstanding service, supported by an already existing FedEx logistics ecosystem,” said Brian Philips, President and CEO of FedEx Office. “We are excited to bring this technology to address new markets and better support our customers. The companies who have provided feedback on its potential use have been instrumental in ensuring we are looking toward the future of e-commerce.”
The number of bots to be used in pilot programs has not been finalized with the participating municipalities.
Alderman At Large Joe Kelly Levasseur asked what would happen if someone covered the robot’s camera with a bag or blanket.
Rebecca Yeung, vice president of service, experience, leadership for FedEx Corp., said the robot has other cameras and tools to help it navigate, and that if something like that occurred a FedEx tech would be sent out to remove the item covering the lens.
No timetable was given for when the details of the Manchester pilot program will be hammered out, but the hope is to launch the effort this summer.