In parts of Plano and Frisco, you'll soon see FedEx deliveries without a driver.
The company is launching a test of its new autonomous FedEx Same-Day Bot, a robot making on-demand, local deliveries of goods like pizza and auto parts.
"It knows its surroundings, knows how to cross the street, it can read the street lights, it knows when to turn and when to stop," said FedEx Office President and CEO Brian Philips.
The battery-powered robot, which weighs 200 pounds and can carry an additional 100 pounds of cargo, resembles a FedEx package on all terrain wheels. Cameras and sensors are mounted to it to help the robot navigate city streets and hazards. The robot can travel unpaved surfaces, over curbs and steps – according to FedEx.
During a test period that begins in late July or early August, the robot will handle internal deliveries between Plano's FedEx Office Headquarters on Legacy Drive and a FedEx retail location a mile and a half away in the Legacy West development. Initially, a chaperon will accompany the robot for safety.
But if testing goes well, Philips said the robot can be customized to fit the needs of companies like Lowe's, Target, Walmart, Auto Zone and Walgreen's to make short-distance deliveries to customers quickly.
"FedEx has been in the pickup and delivery business for a long time," said Philips. "But nobody, including FedEx, has ever cracked the hyper-local delivery opportunity."
Philips described Walgreen's Minute Clinic using the robots to help diagnose and treat conditions like strep throat, without the customer driving to a physical clinic.
"They send you the kit, you swab, you send the kit back and then they send you the medicine," Philips explained. "You just can't do that with a traditional van and a traditional driver."
But before on-demand deliveries can become a reality, Philips said the robots will initially follow other fixed routes: delivering products from Lowe's stores to construction sites or between Auto Zone stores and mechanics that frequently place orders.
Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere said autonomous vehicle services are inevitable as companies race to corner the market in what's known as "last-mile" deliveries to consumers.
"It's a question of when and it's a question of how will our infrastructure be able to handle this," said Mayor LaRosiliere.
Mayor LaRosiliere said the potential future uses for autonomous services may mean fewer trucks on city roads.
"To alleviate traffic we're just going to have to do different things," said Mayor LaRosiliere. "We can't take anymore right of way, we can't add more concrete, that's more cars. We just have to find a way to use technology and the modern economy to deliver services in a different way to our citizens."
FedEx said it is testing the robots in Plano and Frisco first along a route near Legacy West. It's also testing the technology in Memphis, Tennessee and Manchester, New Hampshire.