The retail industry continues to be a hotbed of innovation, with activity driven by environmental sustainability, regulatory reforms, technology, and risk mitigation, and the growing importance of technologies such as robotic inventory management, customer service robotics, voice commerce, and smart checkout. In the last three years alone, there have been over 133,000 patents filed and granted in the retail industry, according to GlobalData’s report on Robotics: Autonomous delivery vehicles

However, not all innovations are equal and nor do they follow a constant upward trend. Instead, their evolution takes the form of an S-shaped curve that reflects their typical lifecycle from early emergence to accelerating adoption, before finally stabilising and reaching maturity. 

Identifying where a particular innovation is on this journey, especially those that are in the emerging and accelerating stages, is essential for understanding their current level of adoption and the likely future trajectory and impact they will have. 

70+ innovations will shape the retail industry 

According to GlobalData’s Technology Foresights, which plots the S-curve for the retail industry using innovation intensity models built on over 128,000 patents, there are 70+ innovation areas that will shape the future of the industry. 

Within the emerging innovation stage, autonomous vending is a disruptive technology that is in the early stages of application and should be tracked closely. Robotic order fulfilment, automated inventory management, and autonomous delivery vehicles are some of the accelerating innovation areas, where adoption has been steadily increasing. Among maturing innovation areas are cashierless store and autonomous delivery management, which are now well established in the industry. 

Innovation S-curve for robotics in the retail industry 

Autonomous delivery vehicles is a key innovation area in robotics 

A self-driving vehicle that has the capability to deliver goods without human intervention can be referred to as an autonomous delivery vehicle. 

GlobalData’s analysis also uncovers the companies at the forefront of each innovation area and assesses the potential reach and impact of their patenting activity across different applications and geographies. According to GlobalData, there are 20+ companies, spanning technology vendors, established retail companies, and up-and-coming start-ups engaged in the development and application of autonomous delivery vehicles. 

Key players in autonomous delivery vehicles – a disruptive innovation in the retail industry  

‘Application diversity’ measures the number of different applications identified for each relevant patent and broadly splits companies into either ‘niche’ or ‘diversified’ innovators. 

‘Geographic reach’ refers to the number of different countries each relevant patent is registered in and reflects the breadth of geographic application intended, ranging from ‘global’ to ‘local’. 

Patent volumes related to autonomous delivery vehicles

Company Total patents (2010 - 2021) Premium intelligence on the world's largest companies
Cox Enterprises 157 Unlock company profile
Nuro 113 Unlock company profile
Walmart 113 Unlock company profile
Didi Global 97 Unlock company profile
Toyota Motor 74 Unlock company profile
Zume 34 Unlock company profile
FedEx 33 Unlock company profile
Ford Motor 25 Unlock company profile
Flex 23 Unlock company profile
Honda Motor 19 Unlock company profile
Ocado Group 15 Unlock company profile
Indigo Agriculture 14 Unlock company profile
Lyft 14 Unlock company profile
Geely Holding Group 13 Unlock company profile
Uber Technologies 12 Unlock company profile
Vengo 12 Unlock company profile
LG 10 Unlock company profile
Alphabet 10 Unlock company profile
Grab Holdings 10 Unlock company profile
Panasonic 9 Unlock company profile
Samsung Group 9 Unlock company profile
Intelligent Imaging Systems 9 Unlock company profile
Omnitracs 9 Unlock company profile
ecoATM 7 Unlock company profile
Ilitch Holdings 7 Unlock company profile
Omron 7 Unlock company profile
Conduent 7 Unlock company profile
Kapsch TrafficCom 6 Unlock company profile
NEC 5 Unlock company profile

Source: GlobalData Patent Analytics

Cox Enterprises is one of the leading patent filers in autonomous delivery vehicles. Some other key patent filers in the autonomous delivery vehicles space include Nuro, Walmart, and Didi Global. Recently, Cox Enterprises acquired Spiers New Technologies (SNT), an Oklahoma City-based company that provides remanufacturing, repair, repurposing, and refurbishing services for EV battery packs. 

In terms of application diversity, Cox Enterprises led the pack, while ecoATM and Flex stood in the second and third positions, respectively. By means of geographic reach, Geely held the top position, followed by Grab and Ocado Group

Autonomous delivery vehicles will potentially become an important aspect in the retail industry. With retail companies focusing on increasing efficiency, autonomous delivery vehicles will gain greater popularity. 

To further understand the key themes and technologies disrupting the retail industry, access GlobalData’s latest thematic research report on Retail

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Patent Analytics tracks patent filings and grants from official offices around the world. Textual analysis and official patent classifications are used to group patents into key thematic areas and link them to specific companies across the world’s largest industries.