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Delivery robots gaining ground in Japan and beyond

Delivery robot of US start-up Nuro. Source: Nuro, Inc.
Delivery robot of US start-up Nuro. Source: Nuro, Inc.

Japan is a world leader in the development of robots. Once again, the country has demonstrated this supremacy. According to the daily financial newspaper, Nikkei, Japan intends to test more delivery robots on public roads, beginning in fiscal 2019. The government will draw up safety guidelines by March, paving the way for companies to put their latest equipment to the test.

Japan Post’s mail processing division has already tested robots in facilities such as public housing complexes in recent months. The Yamato courier service is testing driverless vehicles for deliveries in Kanagawa Prefecture, in southwest Tokyo.

Delivery robots classified as vehicles in Japan

There are some hurdles for testing robots on public Japanese roads, however. One of these involves obtaining the approval of local police departments. However, police lack the safety standards and regulations on which to base their decision. Testing generally requires blocking off roads from general traffic. For now, the Japanese Road Traffic Act treats robots as automobiles that can only drive in roads.

Japan now wants to define safety measures for testing robots under human supervision. These will be included in a new growth strategy planned for this summer.

Delivery drones in Japan and China

Meanwhile, the Chinese Internet group JD.com is entering the delivery robot industry in Japan. China’s second largest e-commerce company, it plans to test driverless deliveries with its Japanese competitor, Rakuten. JD.com will supply the delivery robots – drones and unmanned land vehicles equipped with cameras and sensors for self-navigation. The Japanese company will use these to test its deliveries over the last mile in Japan. However, Rakuten is also developing its own fleet of smaller delivery drones.

JD.com says it operates more than 100 drones and 50 self-driving vehicles in China. The company also operates semi-automatic warehouses and supermarkets as well as restaurants that use robots to cook and serve food.

Self-driving cars delivering food in Arizona

In the United States, robots are already being used occasionally for delivery purposes. The robotics start-up Nuro launched an unmanned delivery service in December, 2018, in Scottdale, Arizona, together with the food chain Kroger.

Nuro recently completed a $940 million financing round with SoftBank Vision Fund. The company intends to use the funds to improve its technology, expand its fleet, and attract new partners for its delivery service.

SoftBank has already invested in a number of online food services. These include Zume Pizza, based in Mountain View, California, which uses trucks with built-in ovens to bake pizzas on the way to the customer.