5 ecommerce logistics innovations taking to land, air and sea

More drones, robots and delivery boats are being deployed for the holiday season.

ikea box on a boat

Ikea, on a boat. (Courtesy photo)

During the busy holiday season, packages have to get out the door quickly, and reach customers by a certain date.

The necessity of problem-solving makes it a time when innovation can shine, and that’s certainly true in 2022. Ecommerce brands and platforms are making logistics and supply chain advances more widely available, and introducing new methods to expand access. While the headlines are focused on more robots, drones and electric vehicles, the practical purposes behind these initiatives are cutting delivery times, reducing emissions and lessening labor.

Here’s a look at five new advances rolling out this holiday season:

Uber Eats’ robot delivery

Sidewalk robots. (Photo courtesy of Uber/Cartken)

Uber Eats is deploying a fleet of autonomous sidewalk robots to make deliveries in Miami.

The robots are operated by Cartken, a company founded by ex-Google engineers that makes robots specifically for neighborhood-level delivery, campus meal delivery and curbside pickup. The Uber partnership is a graduation of sorts, as this is the first time Cartken’s robots have been deployed outside of college campuses.

The partnership is beginning with select merchants in the Dadeland area of Miami-Dade County, and there are plans to expand in Miami-Dade and to additional cities in 2023.

"Miami is a thriving Uber Eats market and we are excited to bring its residents a little more Uber magic through sidewalk robot delivery," said Noah Zych, Global Head of Autonomous Mobility and Delivery at Uber, in a statement.

Walmart’s drone expansion

a drone over a Walmart parking lot.

Drones fly from Walmart. (Photo courtesy of Walmart)

2022 has already been a year when Walmart’s drone delivery operations took flight. With the holiday season expected to soar to a close, the company and DroneUp added more cities in Texas, Arizona and Florida.

New locales for the aerial delivery include:

  • The Dallas area, where orders will be fulfilled from 11 stores, and deliveries will reach customers who live within a mile of the store.
  • Tampa and Orlando, where orders will be delivered from seven stores.
  • The Phoenix area, where orders will be delivered from four stores.

Walmart says drone delivery is available for 10,000 items, up to 10 pounds. The delivery fee is $3.99, and there is no order limit.

“Drone delivery makes it possible for our customers to shop those last-minute or forgotten items with ease, in a package that’s frankly really cool,” said Vik Gopalakrishnan, VP of innovation & automation at Walmart U.S., in a statement.

This news adds a group of high-population markets to Walmart’s drone delivery map. In May, Walmart said it would expand drone delivery across six states, and said it would be able to reach four million customers. By the end of 2022, Walmart said there will be 34 stores making drone delivery available in 23 cities nationwide.

Amazon’s electric delivery

Amazon's electric delivery vehicle. (Courtesy photo)

For Amazon, 2022 has been a year of rapid expansion in electric delivery, and the move was supercharged during the holiday season. The company said it now has more than 1,000 Rivian vehicles making deliveries in more than 100 cities across the US.

Along with the all-electric system, the vehicles are designed with large windshields, 360-degree cameras and ventilated seats.

New cities include Austin, Boston, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, Madison, Newark, New York, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Portland, Provo and Salt Lake City.

This comes after a summertime expansion to more than a dozen cities. With plans for 100,000 vehicles by 2030, more vans are likely to be spotted on the road in the coming months.

FedEx goes electric on the sidewalk


FedEx. (Courtesy photo)

In New York City, FedEx is piloting the use of four-wheeled e-carts that help delivery pros carry more packages across sidewalks. The carts are from GM startup BrightDrop. Along with lightening the load, FedEx said the e-carts can reduce vehicle idling and redistribute delivery activity away from the curb.

Here's how the system works:

  • E-carts are pre-sorted and loaded at a FedEx station.
  • E-carts are dropped off with foot couriers at locations along routes.
  • Couriers make deliveries on foot.
  • Empty e-carts are picked up and returned to the station.

This holiday season, FedEx is expanding a New York pilot it began last year to areas including the Diamond District, Theatre District, Midtown, Midtown East and Brooklyn Heights. These routes cover seven walking miles, and FedEx is aiming to take learnings that can be applied to urban delivery across the US.

With BrightDrop, FedEx has also introduced 150 electric vehicles in Southern California this year.

Kellogg’s packaging accessibility

Kellogg's cereals. (Courtesy photo)

Kellogg’s is using technology to make cereal boxes more accessible for people who are blind or have low vision.

The company added optical smart codes to the front and sides of packaging in four recognizable cereal brands. Consisting of high-contrast colorful squares on a black background, these codes can be detected and read by the NaviLens and NaviLens GO apps. These apps enable people to locate the boxes from several feet away and navigate to them. Users will then be able to hear their names, package sizes, and nutritional information. The codes are available on Corn Flakes, Special K, Rice Krispies and Crispix.

This addition is also internal, as Kellogg’s will include NaviLens codes in all corporate facilities by the end of 2023.

Ikea’s boat delivery

Ikea's boat delivery. (Courtesy photo)

Logistics innovation will not only require creating new vehicles, but also optimizing for the existing built environment.

This is on view in Ikea’s new delivery pilot in Paris. The home and furniture company will deliver items by boat via the Seine, which is the river that runs through the French capital. Through a partnership with Box2Home, Ikea is combining the boat transport with electric vehicles.

The goal is to reduce emissions, as well as improve delivery times. Ikea said the delivery operations will emit five times less CO2 than road delivery, and save around 300,000 kilometers of road time.

“Developing river transport is not an option but a necessity for the City of Paris and we will encourage each project going in this direction,” said Pierre Rabadan, deputy mayor of Paris, in a statement.

Subscribe to The Current Newsletter

Trending in Operations


'There's a lot of ways to frame value'

Campbell Soup Company CEO Mark Clouse offered thoughts on messaging amid inflationary shifts in consumer behavior.

campbell soup cans on the shelf
Photo by Kelly Common on Unsplash

After months of elevated inflation and interest rate hikes that have the potential to cool demand, consumers are showing more signs of shifting behavior.

It’s showing up in retail sales data, but there’s also evidence in the observations of the brands responsible for grocery store staples.

Keep reading...Show less

Latest from Operations