Supermarket delivery robots to be rolled out in Dubai

Roads and Transport Authority has joined forces with FedEx to develop a fleet of automated pods that can bring groceries to the customer's doorstep

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 15, 2019: Roxo brings the winning results for the Dubai World challenge for self driving transport (awards). The Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport. Tuesday the 15th of October 2019. World Trade centre, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Supermarket delivery robots could soon be hitting the streets in Dubai - helping to take the strain out of the weekly grocery shop.

Dubai Roads and Transport Authority has joined forces with FedEx to develop a fleet of robotic couriers that can bring goods to the customer's doorstep.

The hi-tech project is expected to be trialled in the near future, with Dubai Silcon Oasis primed to be the pilot neighbourhood. Though a start date is still to be confirmed.

"We have looked at this technology and we feel it will work as a good product delivery service for Dubai," said Ahmed Bahrozyan, chief executive of the public transport agency at the RTA.

"The FedEx robot is part of an initiative being done by many companies to cover the last mile of delivery by using autonomous pods that are cheaper and more convenient [than delivery vehicles]."

The automated pods will collect groceries from a transit hub and deliver them to a chosen destination.

“If you have a residential area with a small shopping mall or super market, you will be able to buy something online and have it delivered via robot,” said Mr Bahrozyan.

An agreement with FedEx was signed at the RTA’s self-driving congress under the terms of Dubai's autonomous transportation strategy.

It aims to reduce traffic and pollution in the emirate and make 25 per cent of all road trips driverless by 2030.

Although a first for the UAE, other companies elsewhere have already trialled delivery robots, such as the US.

The Amazon Scout launched earlier this year, delivers goods to homes in California and Washington from an urban distribution centre.

American company Starship Technologies has also built a fleet of robots that can bring groceries to homes in the UK and on campus at George Mason University.

The company has reported more that 50,000 successful robot deliveries so far.

The Starship Technology device moves at a pedestrian speed, can carry items within a six-kilometre radius and safely navigate around people and objects.

The cargo bay remains locked during the journey and can be opened only by the recipient with an app on their smartphone, which also tracks the progress of the robot.

Tech company Refraction AI has launched the Rev-1, a delivery pod capable of operating on roads and bike lanes.

Specific details of how Dubai's autonomous delivery service will operate were not disclosed during the conference. It was not made clear whether the service will initially be provided to villas or low-rise accommodation, or if it will cater to customers living in high floors of apartment blocks.

Another option is air delivery by drones and it is being considered to reduce traffic and pollution.

“Delivery is not just on the ground, as there is the potential for drones also,” said Mr Bahrozyan. “At the RTA we want to reduce trips made on the road to alleviate traffic."

International logistic giant UPS won government approval in the US this month to operate a "drone airline" around hospital campuses.

Drone drops will need to be certified and approved by aviation regulators, but Mr Bahrozyan said they could also be used in the UAE in the future.

“Autonomous delivery to the doorstep of the customer is in early development, but we will select certain communities as a starting point and go from there. We need to test it to see how people interact with the service and how reliable it is.

“Then we will decide if there is a path towards wider implementation in Dubai,” he said.