One scenario is to use a combination of driverless vehicles and delivery robots.
This year, supplier Continental demonstrated a package delivery system that employs a robotaxi called CUbE, short for Continental Urban Mobility Experience, and a miniature delivery robot.
"Both are electrified, both are autonomous and, in principle, both can be based on the same scalable technology portfolio," Ralph Lauxmann, head of systems and technology in Continental's Chassis & Safety Division, said in a statement.
Driverless vehicles such as CUbE could act as a kind of mother ship, carrying one or multiple delivery robots and deploying them to handle the last yards of the delivery logistics chain, according to Continental. The goal is to reduce idle times spent in traffic and boost transport capacity.
Amazon has been testing a similar last-mile delivery system called Scout. The devices use camera and sensor data for autonomous route planning and navigation to transport parcels from urban distribution points to customers, according to the company. So far, the robot has been tested in Washington and California.
In Memphis, FedEx has tested a short-range robot, Roxo, that can travel on sidewalks, along roadsides, on unpaved surfaces and up and down steps.
Ford Motor Co. announced the initial testing of its package-carrying, two-legged headless android concept named Digit in May. Unlike some wheeled delivery robots, Digit could use its arms and legs to ensure safe delivery of packages.
And Nuro, a self-driving delivery company, has tried grocery and pizza delivery programs through partnerships with companies such as Kroger and Domino's.
What happens when all these robots hit the pavement is an open question.
Rutter points to the user confusion and sidewalk congestion caused by electric swooters and rental bikes as a preview of the problems with autonomous robots.
"Fixing the first and last mile is a challenge for a whole bunch of operations," he said. "If you have little coolers on wheels and those are on sidewalks, how do those fit in areas that don't have as big a sidewalk as other places do? So many of these operations are being driven by technology firms, which are much more of the ask-forgiveness-later mentality. I think it's going to be a challenge for a lot of city planners and city governments."