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Monday - February 7, 2022

Challenging Last Mile Delivery Standards

Before the onset of online shopping, the amount of goods and parcels shipped to individual households was rather small. Most items were shipped in bulk directly to retailers using freight services so that less of the burden fell on individual delivery operators. Fast forward to present day, and people are ordering almost everything online due to the promise of free or low-cost shipping. You can literally order a spatula and get it shipped to you for free – in two days or less – as an Amazon Prime or Walmart+ member. The power at your fingertips these days is exciting!

One of the biggest hurdles in parcel distribution is the “last mile delivery”, or the segment of travel where a package reaches its final destination. Labor shortages and an exponential increase in the volume of packages has led retailers to pursue innovative solutions that are both autonomously operated and environmentally friendly. Most recently, there were several new and existing companies showing off their latest last mile delivery technology at the Consumer Electronics Show. Solutions are being presented for both indoor and outdoor applications, such as hotel concierge and food delivery bots. Each use case can help employers fill the gaps left by labor shortages, or to perform undesirable tasks.

Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance for Autonomous Robots

Like autonomous vehicles, the majority of delivery bots are equipped with LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors that generate a 3D view of the surrounding environment. This, coupled with geolocation antennas, help the autonomous robots navigate to their destination without running into anything. MinebeaMitsumi supports LIDAR manufacturers with high performance BLDC motors capable of reaching the necessary rotation speed for accurate mapping. We also have a new technology in development – a Limited Angle Torque Motor (LATM). This motor is based on our unique magnetic circuit design, which enables us to control the slope of a LIDAR mirror at a high speed and with a high degree of precision.

Autonomous Robots Load Capacity and Customer Interface

Today, these robots are being piloted in cities, hotels and university campuses, and need to be relatively compact in order to operate on sidewalks, hallways and even elevators. It is also useful for autonomous delivery robots to integrate an easy-to-use interface such as a touchscreen. Increasing ease-of-use will typically lead to higher technology adoption.

Because these robots are so smart and highly functional, it may come as no surprise that they consist of many complex components. During design, it is important that engineers consider the size of these components along with their power requirements. I wouldn’t want a delivery bot running out of battery while en route with my dinner. By choosing high efficiency motor drives and energy saving electronics, you can maximize the time between battery charges. We are currently developing in-wheel drive motors that deliver energy efficient, high-performance operation.

One thing that may need to be considered for next generation designs is a way for the delivery bot to leave your parcel if you are unable to greet it directly. Today, the Amazon Key service will allow a driver to drop a package inside your home if your house is equipped with a smart lock and cameras. Would you be more comfortable with this idea if it were a delivery bot entering your home instead of a stranger? I’m very much looking forward to watching this technology evolve in the coming years.

Kevin Haupt
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