Amazon has stopped using their six-wheeled robot, “Scout,” for home deliveries. FedEx is planning to discontinue its last-mile robot, Roxo.
FedEx chief transformation officer Sriram Krishnasam told employees that the last-mile delivery robot will be scaled back.
“Although robotics and automation are key pillars of our innovation strategy, Roxo did not meet necessary near-term value requirements for DRIVE,” Krishnasam wrote in the memo. “Although we are ending the research and development efforts, Roxo served a valuable purpose: to rapidly advance our understanding and use of robotic technology.”
At one hand, this is brilliant for humans who work with package logistics supply chain—they get to keep their jobs. I have always argued that we shouldn’t blindly replace human jobs with technology, and that technology is here to make us better humans, not replace us. Yet, I cannot help but wonder about the larger issues—the gap between policymaking, technology development, and social needs, wishes, and preferences.
Technology-driven automation has been around for a while. However, our physical and social infrastructure was always able to accommodate these technologies and the users repurposing of that technology.
With the advancements of technology and its impact on our social fabric, along with the lack of accountability and smarter decisions by policymakers, our infrastructure is beginning to show signs of wear.
Look at South Korea. The demographic problems are clearly showing a disconnect between the situation to its potentials. Samsung is placing a lot of emphasis on automation due to a lack of available workers. The construction industry is facing a shortage of 250,000 employees. Schools are closing due to a lack of students. The taxi industry is lacking 30% of its manpower. The South Korea crisis wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the writing that was on the wall for some time now. However, it was pushed back by those who cling to the past.
South Korea must be a red flag to Europe and the US. The demographic challenges and the shift in social needs, wishes, and preferences where everyone wants a job but no one wants to work anymore will require a new set of policies. We cannot continue to patch our societal building blocks and infrastructure with temporary fixes. We must allocate enough management power, budget, and intellect to reflect on our future before it will become our present.
Amazon and FedEx’s struggle with their automated delivery services is a failure only if policymakers, cities, and business are unwilling to learn from it, as it is not a failure of technology, but of the business model and infrastructure.