DHL's mail robot carries heavy loads and frees up the hands of delivery workers

dhl mail robot postbot delivery
Deutsche Post DHL

Delivery giant DHL has invested a great deal of time and money in developing delivery drones, and over the last few years has run several trials targeting isolated communities on small islands and in mountainous regions.

Its latest autonomous effort involves not a flying machine but instead a ground-based robot by the name of PostBOT. If you’re a mail delivery worker, the good news is that PostBOT isn’t out to replace you, rather it wants to act as your buddy, accompanying you on your rounds, carrying all the mail, and, importantly, freeing up your hands so you can more easily deal with letters and packages on the move.

Deutsche Post DHL Group announced this month that it’s ready to start testing electric-powered PostBOTs in Bad Hersfeld, a town of about 30,000 people in central Germany.

Designed by French robotics firm Effidence with input from DHL delivery staff, PostBOT is a hefty-looking machine that stands at around 150 centimeters. It holds six mail trays and can carry loads of up to 330 pounds (150 kg), enough weight to vaporize all the discs in your back if you ever attempted to carry all that by yourself. Best leave it to PostBOT.

On-board sensors track the legs of the mail carrier, ensuring both robot and human stay close to one another for the entirety of the round. As you’d expect, those sensors also prevent PostBOT from barreling into obstacles, though it’s a safe bet that any nearby pedestrians will be quick to make space if they see this large and somewhat bulky robot coming their way.

“Day in and day out, our delivery staff perform outstanding but exhausting work,” said Jürgen Gerdes of Deutsche Post DHL. “We’re constantly working on new solutions to allow our employees to handle this physically challenging work even as they continue to age.” And with Germany a nation of four seasons, PostBOT has been built to handle all weather conditions, ensuring year-round operation.

Gerdes said many staff are already making use of ebikes (and etricycles) for mail deliveries, while the six-week PostBOT trial is expected to offer “important insights into how we can further develop the delivery process for our employees.”

Ground-based delivery robots have been getting increasing exposure in recent years, though up to now most of them have been concerned with grocery and fast-food orders. As with drone technology, one of the main obstacles to their implementation are local authorities that need convincing of their reliability and safety. Steve the mall-based security robot, for example, recently proved that some designs clearly aren’t quite ready.