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Deploying Autonomous Robot Delivery System to Replace Truck Delivery and Reduce GHG Emission in Austin, TX

Principal Investigator(s): Junfeng Jiao PhD, Junmin Wang PhD

Project Partners: The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, UT Good System, City of Austin Department of Transportation

Research Project Funding: $ 201,307

Project Start and End Date: Oct 1st, 2023 – September 30st, 2024

Project Description: Being fully electric-powered, Autonomous Delivery Robots (ADR) present a promising avenue for substantial reductions in energy utilization and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within urban areas. However, existing robot delivery systems have been predominantly tested on small scales such as university campuses, and for specific delivery purposes. The potential environmental benefits of these systems remain largely uncharted, necessitating further exploration and validation. To fill this gap, this research aims to deploy a robot delivery system in an Austin neighborhood to test the performance of ADR in terms of delivery efficiency and GHG emissions reduction, then a citywide robot delivery system deployment strategy will be developed. This study employs a Short to Medium Range Autonomous Delivery System (SMADS) to deliver packages in Georgian Acres Community in Austin, TX. The SMADS which was funded by the UT Good Systems Grand Challenge, is designed to deliver food in the UT campus using robots that will cross complex terrain, navigating around people, cars, and other obstacles typical to campus roadways. The study has two objectives. The first objective aims to deploy a robot delivery system in a real neighborhood to satisfy last-mile delivery demands in residents’ daily lives. PIs will also test and analyze the efficiency and GHG emission reduction of this system. The second objective is to Formulate a comprehensive robotic delivery system deployment strategy for the city of Austin, Texas, drawing upon the findings and analyses from the first objective. The result of this study will instruct autonomous robot delivery system designation and provide local governments with deployment strategies to expand environmental benefits. This research in the Austin case will serve as a focal point for generating insights and solutions pertinent to analogous challenges faced by autonomous robot delivery systems across the U.S.

US DOT Priorities: This project fits well within the US DOT Strategic Goal of Transformation, aiming to test and deploy an electric-powered Autonomous system for short to medium-range delivery in Austin as a prototype that could be adopted in other US cities. This project also contributes to US DOT Goal of Climate and Sustainability by testing the performance of developed robot delivery system in terms of efficiency and GHG emission reduction in a real neighborhood and develop citywide robot delivery system deployment strategies. In the same line, this project contributes to CCST’s Focus Area 5: Smart Cities & Innovative Adaptation and Mitigation Technologies.

Outputs:  A Short to Medium Range Autonomous Delivery System (SMADS) will be employed and redesigned to deliver packages in the Georgian Acres Community in Austin, TX; and subsequently, evaluate the efficiency and potential reduction in GHG emissions of our proposed system. The environmental benefits of robot delivery systems will be quantified in this research. The research result will be disseminated through several avenues, including (1) a publication in leading journals and top conferences such as Transportation Research Part E: Logistics and Transportation Review, IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems, Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, and Transportation Research Board; (2) An autonomous robot delivery system will be developed and serve as tools for future on-site research; (3) An efficiency-oriented and an environmental benefit oriented robotic delivery system deployment strategy for the city of Austin, Texas, will be formulated to provide information for local governments; (4) workshops and seminars involving researchers, practitioners, and community stakeholders to share findings and seek future collaborations; (5) facilitating cooperation with local governments and relevant stakeholders to deploy the robot delivery system at larger scale.


This research will provide a foundational framework for subsequent academic endeavors. The autonomous robot delivery system avails tools for empirical research, facilitating an examination of the viability of such systems across varied urban environments and under distinct conditions. As a result, the theoretical constructs surrounding autonomous robot delivery are anticipated to be refined. The proposed deployment strategies will equip enterprises and governmental bodies with structured guidelines, fostering the large-scale development of robotic delivery systems, and thereby contributing to a pronounced reduction in GHG emissions. This project will also be a instruction and framework for other cities to plan for robot delivery system development and estimate GHG emission reduction, thus a nationally GHG reduction could be estimated.

For short-term impacts: pertinent studies will be conducted based on the robot delivery system. Novel delivery paradigms, encompassing the integration of autonomous vehicular technology with last-mile delivery robots, will be conceptualized, and subsequently deployed within local communities.

For long-term impacts: This research aims to serve as a paradigm and guide for governmental entities contemplating the deployment of autonomous robot delivery systems to mitigate GHG emissions and enhance freight efficiency. Future empirical examinations will be executed across diverse urban landscapes, with the anticipation that widespread deployment of such robot delivery mechanisms within numerous US cities will contribute markedly to the substantial reduction of GHG emissions.