Delivery Robot

What is a delivery robot?

A delivery robot is an autonomous robot providing “last mile” delivery services to bring goods directly to customers. Delivery robots today work all over the world, delivering groceries in Georgia and the UK, conveying meals to students at Ohio State University, George Mason University, and Bowling Green University, and distributing meals and clean linens in hospitals. While most robot deliveries currently occur on the ground, according to McKinsey, deliveries via drone are becoming more common as well. Drone deliveries increased by 80% from 2021 to 2022, with 2023 on track to crack one million deliveries. 

The delivery robot market is expected to grow at a five-year combined aggregate growth rate of 23.6%, from $763 million in 2023 to $2.5 billion in 2028. The largest segment of delivery robots work in the food and beverage business, followed by healthcare and retail. The majority of the market are robots that can carry up to 10kg, with much smaller slices handling 10-50kg loads or deliveries of more than 50kg. 

Drivers and enablers of delivery robot market growth

The growth in e-commerce has conditioned consumers to expect items delivered to their homes without ever having to leave. The continuing labor crunch has made transporting items across that last mile and into the hands of consumers an expensive proposition. And when COVID-19 hit, contactless delivery and staying home took on new meaning. All these factors have converged to increase the demand for delivery robots. 

On the supply side of the market, VC investment and tech giants like Google and Amazon experimenting with drones have funded new approaches. Technological advancements have also enabled delivery robot market growth, such as:

  • Improvements in battery range. Most delivery robots are powered by lithium-ion batteries, however hydrogen fuel cells are an emerging area that could be promising for this sector. Battery size and range impact delivery radius and therefore return on investment. Similarly, the heavier the load a robot is transporting, the greater the power requirements. Add in additional power requirements—such as temperature controls to keep food items at a safe temperature—and dynamic power management becomes increasingly important. 
  • More nimble hardware and growing experience in a variety of weather environments. The “last-mile problem” is one of the hardest nuts to crack in logistics in part because of the high variability in environments. Whether it is weather obstacles like snow or ice or cracks in the road or the pavement creating uneven surfaces, delivery robots must be able to react and respond to avoid getting stuck.
  • Teleoperation. When the best technology is no match for the wild and wooly real world, teleoperation allows a human to take over and navigate the robot to its destination. Teleoperation reduces risk and provides an important backup system to ensure items arrive. 
  • Safety improvements. Improved obstacle avoidance sensors, systems, and AI learning have made it possible for robots to navigate through and around stationary and moving obstacles dynamically. These elements are critical to driving greater adoption. 
  • 5G data network coverage. 5G networks provide higher bandwidth connections to ensure that robots can always phone home and operators can always see where their deliveries are at any point along the way. 

Delivery robots at work

These robots can be found in the following places.