Last-mile logistics provider AxleHire offers same-day and next-day delivery through a network that includes gig economy, couriers and traditional carriers. For the past year, he’s been quietly testing remote-controlled delivery robots from self-repositioning startup Tortoise in Los Angeles and e-bike container delivery from compact container delivery service URB-E in New York City. . On Thursday, it announced plans to scale the two very different zero-emission pilot programs nationwide over the next 12 months.
AxleHire, which is known for package delivery and food kit delivery for restaurants like Blue Apron and HelloFresh, plans to bring more than 100 Tortoise robots across the country. During URB-E’s summer deployment with AxleHire in New York, it deployed 10 vehicles moving 100 containers per week. It will now deploy 50 URB-E vehicles moving between 300 and 500 containers per week in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as other launch cities. The company, which raised a round of $ 20 million in April, did not specify all the cities that it would enter with these new programs, but Tortoise and URB-E said that we can search the cities in which AxleHire already operates: Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, New York, Phoenix, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
AxleHire’s style is to establish delivery centers in or near dense metropolitan areas, making travel easier and driving fewer miles overall. The partnerships with Tortoise and URB-E are part of AxleHire’s mission to create more sustainable and affordable last-mile deliveries. The company says its partnerships with the two startups have also reduced its emissions by 95%. AxleHire provides an example of a company testing two very different, greener, and technology-focused forms of freight, so it probably serves as an interesting case study for other last-mile logistics providers.
In New York, AxleHire and URB-E have been working together on a microcontainer delivery system between Brooklyn and Manhattan. URB-E vehicles are specifically designed to be able to ride in bike lanes, despite their ability to carry more than 800 pounds. AxleHire says its pilot with URB-E resulted in a six-fold reduction in traffic and a model that’s three times cheaper than electric vehicle delivery vans, largely based on avoiding parking tickets.
Over the past year in Los Angeles, AxleHire placed Tortoise’s 4 mph remote-controlled electric carts, carrying up to 120 pounds of merchandise, in its city delivery microhubs, allowing small robots with friendly smiley faces. They will go back and forth, making about 15 deliveries a day within a three-mile radius. Additionally, AxleHire loaded a large truck with multiple packages and a Turtle robot, which would then drive into a dense residential area. This truck would serve as a mobile delivery center, making its own deliveries as the robot goes back and forth delivering packages and recharging all day.
“It’s basically the beehive model, where we’re increasing the existing van or truck in terms of how many deliveries they could make in a two-hour stretch,” Dmitry Shevelenko, co-founder of Tortoise, told TechCrunch. “There is communication with our subject confirming that they will be at home to receive it. If so, they are notified that the robot is on its way when they are about 10 minutes away, and then when it arrives, the customer will go out and pick it up from the bins on the robot. “
The Tortoise robots, which can travel on sidewalks or bike lanes, have interchangeable batteries and can be plugged in and charged, according to Shevelenko. On a single charge, they can reach 10-15 miles of range.
While Tortoise bots will be operated 100% remotely for the next year, remote positioning is not Tortoise’s ultimate goal at all. Autonomy is the goal, and making partnerships like this, as well as with shared electric scooter operators like Spin, allows Tortoise to not only enter markets that currently have no regulation for autonomous vehicles, but also enter the market now, rather than spending several years mapping it out first. The only real infrastructure bots need is 4G connectivity.
“The beauty is that we can send the robot to a new location and because we have the benefit of monitoring human judgment in every inch of the journey,” Shevelenko said. “We don’t need perfect routing or perfect mapping. We are completing the maps over time, and that gives us a big data advantage. “
By slowly collecting routing data over the course of the next year, Tortoise will give your system more data to learn and create the most optimal route for the specific use case of light and low speed delivery vehicles. Shevelenko says Tortoise’s long-term vision is to have its technology in any light electric vehicle, be it a delivery robot, a scooter, a cleaning robot, a security robot, or a construction robot. Delivery is a great place to start, given the huge demand in the COVID market.
“The more vehicles we have with Tortuga eyes on them, the more data we will collect, which means that we are making trips with greater autonomy and lower costs,” Shevelenko said.
In addition to allowing maximum data collection, remotely controlled delivery bots over the next year also give Tortoise the advantage of getting the community used to this new technology.
“We believe that the correct way to enter a community is to first assure people that this is safe and that they feel comfortable with it,” Shevelenko said. “Once it’s part of daily life, then slowly, over time, we can activate more autonomy, but there is no need to rush into that right now. The practical reality is that everyone claims that they are doing autonomy, but they are not. They always have a backup like security controllers or remote monitors. Nobody really trusts their economic system, so we rely on that and we don’t try to do something that is impossible. “