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FedEx’s autonomous delivery robot sent packing by New York City

Delivery robots suffered a setback this week when New York City made it clear they’re not welcome there. At least, for now.

On Monday, November 25, just a few days after a FedEx “SameDay Bot” autonomous robot was spotted trundling along a Manhattan street, lawyers for the New York City Department of Transportation sent a strongly worded cease-and-desist letter to the shipping giant, CNN reported.

The letter warned FedEx that its last-mile delivery robot breached multiple traffic rules, adding that any further outings made by the machine could result in serious consequences for the firm.

“You are hereby directed to immediately cease and desist operating your SameDay Bots on the streets and sidewalks in the City of New York,” lawyers said in the letter. “Failure to do so may result in the seizure of the property, notices of violation and/or the commencement of legal action.”

A video (below) posted on Twitter last week shows the robot rolling along to what appears to be a FedEx depot in the city. Its unexpected appearance was part of efforts to promote Small Business Saturday, an American Express initiative that encourages people to shop at local stores. But when city officials caught wind of the stunt, they were having none of it.

Even New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio waded in, tweeting: “First of all, @FedEx, never get a robot to do a New Yorker’s job. We have the finest workers in the world. Second of all, we didn’t grant permission for these to clog up our streets. If we see ANY of these bots we’ll send them packing.”

We’ve reached out to FedEx for a response to the mayor’s comments and will update this piece if we hear back.

Motorized vehicles are banned from the sidewalks of New York City, and FedEx’s robot doesn’t have special permission to operate there. But with its cease-and-desist letter, officials seem keen to send out a strong message to other delivery robot operators who may be considering pulling a similar kind of stunt.

SameDay Bot

FedEx unveiled SameDay Bot earlier this year. The four-wheel machine, which transports delivery items inside a secure compartment, uses lidar sensors and cameras to help it avoid obstacles. Unlike some of its competitors, FedEx’s robot can cope comfortably with uneven terrain and even deal with steps, enabling it to get close to a recipient’s door for convenient delivery.

“The FedEx SameDay Bot is an innovation designed to change the face of local delivery and help retailers efficiently address their customers’ rising expectations,” Brie Carere, executive vice president and chief marketing and communications officer for FedEx, said when the company unveiled the robot.

A number of companies are developing similar-looking delivery robots. Starship Technologies, for example, is considered a leader in the field, while Amazon is also testing its own machine.

For now, the robots are confined mostly to closed locations such as university campuses, but as the technology develops and regulators ease restrictions, the machines could become a feature of modern life. They might take a while to come to New York City, though.

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Trevor Mogg
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