Imagine receiving a text on your phone saying, “The robot has just arrived with your delivery.” Thanks to on-demand delivery services like Postmates and Deliv, which are making robotic deliveries of food and convenience items in San Francisco and D.C., meeting a package bearing robot at your front door could become routine.
The prospect of delivery-by-robot excites postal operators because of its opportunity to offer customers fast, convenient, and secure delivery. Operators such as Swiss Post, Omniva (in Estonia), and Australia Post are finding that delivery robots can help them make re-delivery attempts as well as direct deliveries from stores at much more convenient times for customers, such as in the evenings. Of particular interest are autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) that could follow carriers, assisting in delivery and potentially lowering risk of injury.
AMRs also have a long and successful history within plants, warehouses, and fulfillment centers. And the U.S. Postal Service has a long history of testing different types of robots to move mail within facilities and reduce work hours. In fact, USPS plans to deploy AMRs in 25 sorting centers this year.
Our recent white paper and an accompanying survey support the idea that the Postal Service could also consider testing not only heavy-duty AMRs such as forklifts and tuggers, but also newer, smaller robots that are more nimble and sophisticated. This could help automate more processes, speed up the rate of processing, and reduce the amount of space needed to process mail.
Although use of robots for fully autonomous delivery is still too economically and technologically immature, AMRS have the overall potential to increase efficiency and allow the Postal Service to offer new delivery services. It would be worthwhile for USPS to continue testing new types of AMRs for sorting and, eventually, delivery.
What do you think? Does it surprise you to hear that the Postal Service has been testing mobile robots in sorting centers for decades? Would you accept, or even prefer, delivery by robot to your door?