FedEx Bets on Automation as It Prepares to Fend Off Uber and Amazon


When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, your FedEx package might someday be delivered by a robot.

Rob Carter, FedEx’s chief information officer, says the shipping giant is considering small vehicles that could drive around neighborhoods and make deliveries without human drivers.

Carter is responsible for setting the technology agenda across FedEx’s various operating companies, including its planes-and-trucks Express shipping service and office-and-home Ground delivery service, which operate in 220 countries. He recently told MIT Technology Review about some of FedEx’s emerging technology initiatives in artificial intelligence and robotics. The investments FedEx makes in these technologies could shape the multi-trillion-dollar logistics market, affecting everything from the way people send and receive parcels to the global movement of large fleets of vehicles.

For example, someday you might be able to initiate a FedEx shipment by talking to your Amazon Echo or Google Home virtual assistant device. Carter says that FedEx has created an AI-enabled Alexa app that would eventually understand commands like “Alexa, prepare a shipment.”

“You [will be able to] just talk your way through and [Alexa will] ask the right questions to make sure you’ve completed the work and then you can expect a truck to roll up to the front door of your office, pick up the shipments, and move them along,” he explains. By eliminating the tedium of filling out forms and searching through menus, the app could streamline the shipping process and boost customer satisfaction. It is still in an early development stage.

FedEx is also researching ways it could further automate the way it transports packages. Carter says the company is working with the startup Peloton Technology, whose semi-autonomous technology electronically links trucks into small caravan groups called platoons. The system, which uses wireless vehicle-to-vehicle communication to enable the driver of a lead truck to control the gas and brakes of a truck following closely behind him, is designed to…



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