MANCHESTER — Aldermen have approved a pilot agreement with FedEx Corp., and temporarily suspended an ordinance prohibiting driving on city sidewalks, paving the way for a SameDay Delivery Bot to begin rolling through Manchester this fall.
FedEx Corp. envisions using the box-shaped robots for deliveries in the not-too-distant future.
The courier is ready to begin testing a 4-foot, 2-inch tall delivery robot in Memphis, Tenn., Plano, Texas, and Manchester.
At this time, Manchester is the first city to approve the terms of such a pilot program.
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 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.
On Tuesday, aldermen voted to temporarily suspend Ordinance 70.20 (Driving Prohibited on Sidewalks and in Safety Zones) for the purpose of the pilot program. The intent of the suspension is for it to apply only to the FedEx bot, and remain in effect for all other vehicles. The City Solicitor’s office will also begin drafting a permanent, specific exception to Ordinance 70.20 for autonomous delivery bots for aldermen to take up this fall.
Aldermen also approved language of an agreement between the city and FedEx Corp. detailing the parameters of the pilot program.
In part, the agreement states, “in the event the Bot is involved in a situation involving death, physical injuries or property damage (normal wear and tear excepted), regardless of fault, FedEx will notify police, and provide a report of its understanding of the facts surrounding the situation.
“If the Bot is to be determined at fault, Bot operations will cease until such time as any design or operational issues with the Bot are remedied by FedEx, and until such time as FedEx acknowledges that it will address any claims lodged by third parties, following which FedEx may resume operation,” the agreement states.
The agreement stipulates the pilot program will last at least 30 days but no more than 180 days, “unless testing is suspended as described above, with testing to be conducted at various times of day, in traffic conditions from light to heavy, and during various weather conditions.”
Within 30 days of the end of the pilot program, Manchester officials will discuss with FedEx if the company can proceed with day to day operations of the Bot.
An early map of the pilot testing area includes downtown Manchester from Elm Street west to Commercial Street, from as far south as Lake Ave. on up to just north of Dow St.
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.