Renault Robo-Pods for Last-Mile Deliveries

Renault has unveiled its concept solution for an autonomous last-mile delivery vehicle it dubs the ‘robo-pod’.

The Renault EZ-PRO is a driverless, electric, connected and shared robotic pod concept bidding to solve the conundrum of getting goods directly into the consumers’ hands. It comes amid a global boom in e-commerce delivery services where customers want immediate delivery, retailers need to manage delivery costs and cities continue to look for new ways of managing intensified traffic and congestion.

However, despite the technology Renault has shown a refreshing acceptance of its limitations, freely admitting that a level of human control will still be required. Its method is to run the pods with a ‘leader pod’ operated by a human concierge who supervises the delivery of goods and services and its fleet. With less driving to do, the concierge should be able to focus tasks, such as supervising the itinerary planning and driverless robo-pods, or ensuring efficient and customized service, such as in-person, premium delivery of groceries or fragile objects.

No doubt some of this realism comes from previous US trials such as Ford’s autonomous meal deliveries in partnership with Domino’s Pizza in Michigan. As Ford boss Jim Farley told TU-Automotive back in April, plans for the last-mile delivery by robot throw up as many challenges as opportunities. He highlighted Ford’s joint trials with Domino’s Pizza where more has to be asked of the consumer than with human delivery services.

Farley said: “We have been delivering Domino’s Pizza with autonomous vehicles now for a while and, boy, have we learned a lot about people in apartment buildings, like what price do you have to discount for them to walk down and get the pizza from an autonomous vehicle? Also, where it stops is no small thing because there is no driver inside to get the goods to the customer. So those partnerships are now really important for autonomy.”

Renault expects the fleet of ‘robo-pods’ to either follow each other by platooning or can move independently and be flexible enough to satisfy different delivery markets including business and domestic clients. It also envisages more than one retail company being able to rent space on the pods at the same time and that deliveries can also be made to self-service secure lockers for consumers to collect at their convenience.

EZ-PRO styling, with a satin finished bodywork, wheel fairings and reflective panels is designed to make the pods fit in with the typical cityscape.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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