Think about all the things that you can get delivered to your home – mail, packages, furniture, pizza, flowers, groceries…just about anything. Each of those deliveries currently requires a human driver, but eventually those drivers will likely be replaced by self-driving cars.
There are certain benefits to the enhanced use of driverless vehicles in the delivery service industry. But one of negative effects is that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans could lose their jobs as drivers are phased out in favor of driverless vehicles.
One interesting note with delivery services, however, is even if drivers are phased out, many companies would still likely need a person on board the vehicle to make the delivery. Companies like FedEx and UPS, for example, which have multiple packages on each truck bound for varied destinations, might still need a human to determine which package goes to which home or business, and to take the package up to the door. Until computer programs can be written and hardware can be developed for some kind of robotic delivery, a truck would still need to be manned; but the job would require less skill than that of a licensed commercial driver and would likely pay far less. Nevertheless, use of Level 4 technology would presumably increase the efficiency of delivery services, because the driver could do paperwork or other tasks for the benefit of the employer while the vehicle is driving itself to the next location.
To read an interview with a UPS executive about his thoughts on the timeline for autonomous delivery trucks, you can visit this website.
The idea of the use of robots for deliveries is not as far off as it may seem. A European company is running trials of food delivery via self-driving robot in a few cities. These robots can carry up to 20 pounds and can go two to three miles on sidewalks. Domino’s is developing a delivery robot, which it calls “Domino’s Robotic Unit,” or DRU for short. http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/dominos-pizza-delivery-robot/ The robot can deliver hot pizza and cold drinks (in separate compartments), collect payments, and chat with customers. The robot travels down sidewalks or bicycle paths to the customer’s home. The customer enters a password provided at the time the order was made to access the pizza order. In addition, a company in Japan hopes to begin testing delivery of internet orders via autonomous trucks in 2017 (though the trucks will have a driver during the testing period).
One can readily envision a self-driving van filled with DRUs, sent to several neighborhoods from the Domino’s Pizza production facility. A software program determines what pizzas and other products belong in which DRU, and which DRUs belong on the van which will most efficiently deliver pizzas to customers. The van will then drive itself on a route selected by the computer software, dropping off the DRUs to make deliveries as appropriate. The DRUs will then return to a pre-determined pick-up point. The DRU-loaded van then returns to the production facility, to repeat the process again.
A host of technical obstacles remain, and it is easier to see this service take hold in large cities (where robots may be directly dispatched from production facilities without the need for driverless vans) than it is in our rural communities. But the path to development is well-underway, and it is not too difficult to see Domino’s licensing this technology to other take-out food establishments. It is also not too difficult to see the financial impact on teenagers, college students, and others who work in these jobs.