The system includes highly automated local warehouses for receiving goods from merchants. It organizes and optimizes the packages for delivery. The cargo is loaded onto conventional delivery trucks or self-driving electric vehicles depending on the complexity of the delivery.
“Boxbot is a new type of delivery company, focused completely on last-mile delivery,” said Austin Oehlerking, Boxbot’s co-founder and chief executive. “By leveraging advanced technology, we can deliver a higher number of packages in less time and at a substantially lower cost per package.”
Veterans of Uber, Tesla and Amazon founded the company, which is based in Oakland, Calif. It raised $7.5 million in early-stage venture capital last year. But it has mostly kept quiet about the system it began developing in 2016.
As e-commerce has accelerated, it has left existing delivery systems struggling to handle the load and costs. Customers complain of frustrating experiences. There’s the inconvenience of waiting for a delivery whose arrival time can be vague. Packages left on doorsteps are stolen. It’s enough to leave some consumers wondering if the convenience of online shopping is worth the ensuing headaches.
Rapid advances in autonomous vehicles and logistics software seem to offer a tantalizing solution and a way to scale this network efficiently. Numerous companies, most notably Amazon, are developing robotics systems to automate warehouses to make better use of space and fill orders more rapidly.
FOCUS ON DELIVERY
Likewise, the field of reinventing the delivery piece is attracting a lot of attention. That includes plans for autonomous delivery vans from giants like Mercedes-Benz Vans and small robotic delivery vehicles by Starship Technologies. There’s a range of autonomous vehicles from startups such as Nuro and Udelv.
Boxbot’s strategy is to address both warehouse and delivery technology.
The company says it will place the hubs it is creating near residential neighborhoods, with a goal of increasing availability of next or same-day shipping. The delivery vans include parcel lockers in the side for securely storing orders separately.
Customers can more precisely schedule delivery times. The system sends customers a text message with a code when the van arrives. They use the code to open the parcel locker containing their order. Returns work similarly.
To continue development, Boxbot also announced a partnership with logistics company OnTrac. The two companies are already testing the system together. OnTrac will begin integrating into some ZIP codes in Northern California, though it did not reveal which ones. Boxbot’s local hubs will work with OnTrac’s more regional warehouse and take over the last-mile deliveries in those places.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles granted Boxbot an Autonomous Vehicle Testing Permit last year. It allows Boxbot to gradually roll out autonomous delivery trucks as long as a safety driver is present.