6 Companies Reimagining Last-Mile Delivery

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This post is the latest in our “Disrupting Retail” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of July, including topics like in-store innovation and Amazon’s moves. See the rest of the series here

The demands on ecommerce retailers have never been greater. Consumers want the widest product selection at the lowest price, and they want their purchases to be delivered on their doorsteps in less time than it would take to run to a local store. With more competition than ever before, retailers are working overtime to meet consumer demands and get products into customers’ hands as quickly as possible.

With that goal in mind, there’s a renewed push in Silicon Valley to tackle last-mile delivery. The use of autonomous vehicles, drones, and artificial intelligence is what more and more vendors are pushing for. Last-mile delivery is the most expensive part of shipping, and increasing fees mean prices are only going higher. The company that can get goods from a transportation hub to the customer’s doorstep in the shortest amount of time will win the retail game, and technology firms are hoping that their innovative solutions will be the answer that retailers are looking for.

Here are six examples of companies that are working to innovate in the last-mile delivery space.

1. Boxbot
Boxbot sees itself as the future of last-mile delivery. Powered by automation, Boxbot utilizes a combination of self-driven vehicles, automated local hubs, and delivery software that connects automation to partners, drivers, and consumers. The result is a streamlined delivery system that gets orders to consumers on schedule, at lower costs than competitors. Earlier this summer, Boxbot announced a new deal with the shipping company OnTrac. Boxbot’s fleet of street-based delivery vehicles will now be handling OnTrac’s packages in certain areas of Oakland.

2. Spark Delivery
Walmart has been testing its own last-mile delivery solution. The retailer’s Spark Delivery service was created to get groceries from local Walmart stores to customers’ doorsteps. Spark Delivery is a crowd-sourced platform. Drivers who’ve signed up with Delivery Drivers, Inc., a nationwide firm that specializes in last-mile contractor management, can login to an in-house platform and sign up for windows of time to deliver groceries for Spark. Most elements of the actual delivery process, including order details and navigation assistance, are managed through an in-house platform. Other components of Spark’s technology suite are powered by Bringg, a delivery logistics technology platform.

3. Amazon Flex
Amazon’s own last-mile delivery service is called Amazon Flex. Amazon Flex was developed to recruit contract workers to pick up packages from Amazon’s distribution center and drop them off at customers’ homes. According to Amazon, Flex drivers can set their own schedules and get paid between $18 and $25 per hour. Drivers’ vehicles must meet certain requirements, and drivers are expected to pay for gas and other vehicle maintenance costs. The program is only live in select markets, however Amazon plans to continue rolling out its Flex delivery service as it develops.

4. Nuro
The robo-delivery startup Nuro was founded by two engineers who contributed to Google’s self-driving car project. The company is focusing on designing a small, packable, on-road vehicle that can handle last-mile delivery. Nuro’s vehicles are designed to handle all kinds of errands and deliveries, and because they’re fully autonomous, the company says its service will be cheaper than traditional delivery services. Two of Nuro’s early partners have been Kroger and Domino’s. Nuro has launched pilot programs in Houston and Scottsdale.

5. Ocado
Ocado is an online grocer based in the UK that has spent a lot of time trying to solve the last-mile conundrum. The company has developed specialized delivery vehicles that can be loaded with racks of groceries that have been specially designed to fit every extra inch of space. Ocado has also developed a routing algorithm to ensure that groceries are loaded into its vehicles in an order that makes sense with the driver’s delivery path. Earlier this year, Ocado announced a partnership with Kroger. Together, the companies plan to build automated grocery warehouses in the U.S., hoping that Ocado’s system will help Kroger fill delivery orders quickly and with a high level of accuracy.

6. Starship
Starship Technologies is building a network of robots that can deliver items anywhere, at any time. Starship’s robots can carry groceries and packages within a two-mile radius. The company plans to deploy its robots in neighborhoods, corporate campuses, and university campuses, with the goal of making local deliveries faster, smarter, and more cost-efficient. Previously, Starship has partnered with on-demand food delivery startups like DoorDash and Postmates. As of February, its robots had made 30,000 deliveries.

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.