Technology

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: Delivery Robots Are En Route

Robots are all the rage lately. Between drones and self-driving cars, vacuums and autonomous lawnmowers, it’s making more sense to wonder which jobs won’t be accomplished by a robot in the future than which will. 

But how close is that future? This question has long been on the minds of those in driving and delivery trades—and for good reason. 

Delivery robots, as it turns out, are just around the corner. This summer, FedEx trialed autonomous delivery. Shaped like mini-fridges on wheels, FedEx’s robots aim to deliver goods to nearby customers more efficiently than standard delivery services. Amazon, the king of speedy shipping, has already showcased its own delivery robot, and in May, Ford made public a two-legged, humanoid delivery robot capable of carrying 40-pound packages up stairs.

But are we truly on the cusp of seeing robots padding down our sidewalks? For insight into the perception of this new technology, CivicScience asked nearly 1,400 people how comfortable they are with delivery robots dropping packages at their doors. 

Turns out that sentiment is pretty split – a surprising 41% of Americans are at least somewhat OK with robots while 45% are not at all comfortable with the idea. Who is going to be the most comfortable with delivery robots becoming ubiquitous? 

Demographic Breakdown 

Age certainly colors outlook on delivery robots. Unsurprisingly, Gen Z is the most forward-looking (23%) and comfort decreases with age. 

Location has some connection to people’s views on delivery robots, too. Delivery robots could make urban deliveries more efficient and some say they could even help with traffic jams in dense city centers.  And overall, city-dwellers are the most likely to be “very comfortable” with the new technology (20%). For comparison, only 8% of people from the countryside are “very comfortable” with robot delivery. 

Love of fast shipping definitely plays a role in feelings about robot delivery, a service primarily aimed at enhancing shipping. People who rank next-day shipping as “the best” are nearly 2X more likely to have positive feelings towards delivery. Those who do all or almost all of their shopping online also have the most positive view of robot delivery. Clearly, the most likely users are also the most comfortable.

Consumers and Their Favorite Stores 

Adult shoppers who hold favorable opinions of Walmart are less likely to be comfortable with the new technology than those who like Target and Amazon. But across the board, the numbers are relatively even. 

Will delivery robots become mainstream? 

Despite the talk of robots taking over the workforce, most people still regard them as niche. Delivery robots aren’t perfect, after all: wheels keep some from climbing steps, and sensors don’t always navigate obstacles or crosswalks correctly. But the tech is improving, and about 20% of people expect them to be used in many places soon. A much smaller portion (7%) believes robots will deliver nearly every package before long.

Once delivery robots begin strolling, rolling, or even trotting through neighborhoods, most people’s perspectives on them could change. Manufacturers are solving problems of mobility by creating different types of robots, from wheeled treads that can pivot to accommodate steps to packs of four-legged “Black Mirror”-esque dogs. (If you haven’t seen the episode, here’s one.) And plenty of companies are looking to cut costs while keeping customers driven by the new paradigm of fast shipping.

All of this means the push for delivery robots probably won’t be powered down any time soon. Whatever form they take, you may be saying thank you very much to a delivery robot sooner than you imagined.

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