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FedEx looks at self-driving parcel delivery, CIO says

By Ben Ames | February 06, 2017 | 9:27 AM

Add FedEx Corp. to the list of carriers looking into self-driving delivery vehicles.

The Memphis-based transport and logistics giant is investigating ways to incorporate small vehicles that could drive around neighborhoods and make deliveries without human drivers, FedEx CIO Rob Carter recently told the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Technology Review magazine.

The move would follow similar initiatives from Uber Inc., which recently acquired the self-driving truck firm Otto, and from Amazon.com Inc. and UPS Inc., which both recently ran public tests of package delivery using flying drones.

Another entrant in the field is the British robotics startup Starship Technologies, which said last month that it was expanding the U.S. trials of its self-driving parcel-delivery robots. The small robots are now driving around neighborhood sidewalks in Redwood City, Calif., and Washington, D.C., running routes for the courier services DoorDash and Postmates.

Compared to Starship, FedEx could bring much deeper pockets and a wider delivery network to the scheme, if it deploys autonomous delivery vehicles to cover the routes now covered by its orange and purple-branded parcel trucks.

As a first step toward driverless delivery, FedEx is already working with the Mountain View, Calif.-based startup Peloton Technology on developing technology that would allow a lead vehicle to control the gas and brakes of a follower truck manned by a human at the wheel. Using technology set for release later in 2017, the lead driver uses a wireless data link to improve safety and fuel consumption for both vehicles through improved aerodynamics, a Peloton Technology spokesman said. The next step to building autonomous delivery networks over the long term would involve working with automakers such as Daimler and Volvo that have already launched their own programs to develop self-driving trucks, Carter told the magazine.

In the meantime FedEx is also exploring ways to automate its operations by building an app to work with virtual assistant devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home, the article says. Such an app could allow users to prepare shipments and request parcel pickup by spoken dictation instead of filling out the same forms with a computer keyboard or even with that ultimate old-fashioned communications tool, a pen.

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