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Imagine the scenario: consumer orders a product online, and to lower delivery is available in the area. Rather than just picking up the product at the nearest Amazon store or waiting for drones to drop off the package on the doorstep, and autonomous wagon, looking like a refrigerator on wheels, shows up and interacts with the consumer via smartphone. This leaves an impression on the consumer, who shares his experience on social media, and the company is an uptick in profits. Now, this example may seem far-fetched, but it is a reality that is around the corner. Robots are showing up in last mile delivery, including drones, unmanned ground vehicles (UGV), the so-called “office refrigerator on wheels.” As a result, shippers need to know a few things about last mile automation.

Startups Are Already Looking to Use Robots in Last Mile Automation

Recently, startups, such as Marble and Dispatch, have commenced exploring the possibility of using Android like robots as delivery professionals in last mile logistics, reports Connie Loizos of Tech Crunch. Furthermore, these startups have already raised significant funds, $47 million+, via crowdsourcing, asserts CB Insights. While this may seem out-of-place in last mile logistics, it shows the demand and proof of concept for robots in the last mile and the subsequent automation they bring. Meanwhile, autonomous trucks, “driverless trucks,” are already a major player, with some companies valued at nearly $1 billion. Moreover, in many ways, autonomous technology is already inherent in most modern vehicles, but why? Mostly, last mile automation is the natural progression of the internet, electrification, sensing and actuation technology, and mobile apps, explains Navigant Research via e-Tech.

Autonomous Technology Is Already Inherent in Most Modern Vehicles

Consumers want safety. They want security. They want assurance before, during and after the sale of any product. While driverless cars and trucks and drones may seem like a technology that is not yet ready for white-scale deployment, autonomous technology is already inherent and required in most modern vehicles. Active Lane assist, traction control, and automated braking are standard features consumers expect when looking at a new car. These same features are the cornerstone to leveraging robotics in last mile automation. It is therefore not a stretch of the imagination to see how the market could explode in the next few years.

The Market Is Poised for Growth

The use of UGVs and drones is expected to grow by more than 20 million devices by 2020. This reflects a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 32 percent, reports source why. Now, think back to our discussion earlier on additive manufacturing and the use of 3-D printing. If a 3-D printer can fit in a small space, especially for custom-sized small products, who is to say that a 3-D printer could not be included on a UGV that departs a facility at the time of ordering? It would “print” the product while on the road.

Freaky, right?

The market is expanding, and shippers can leverage this knowledge to drive robotics and last mile automation. This allows supply chain executives to take steps to ensure their organizations have the right technology and resources ready to stay competitive, including internet-enabled devices and new transportation management systems (TMS), like the Cerasis Rater.

Not Every Part of Last Mile Logistics Must Be Autonomous

There is another aspect to the use of robotics and last mile automation. Just because drone or UGV make the final step of the journey does not mean the entire last mile delivery process is automated. A driver could still be circling the neighborhoods in the traditional delivery van, but drones and UG fees could be actively delivering packages from a delivery van as a landing and departing spot. This means fewer stop points, which reduces fuel costs and increases route efficiency.

Robotics in Last Mile Automation Will Open Possibilities and Last Mile Delivery of Perishable Items

Robotics and last mile automation have the potential to revolutionize how shippers handle last mile logistics processes. Shippers will be able to do more with less, understand their consumers better and deliver on promises that are difficult to keep for companies that do not have the experience and wherewithal of e-commerce giants, like Amazon. In other words, last mile automation and robotics can level the playing field between companies that built dedicated logistics networks with last mile delivery in mind and those new to the game or just beginning to embrace the technological revolution. Ultimately, the use of robotics and last mile automation is key to successfully navigating a growing e-commerce landscape.