Autonomous delivery vehicles have the potential to be much more than a replacement or extension of existing delivery services. With a powerful computing system inside them, they will be able to go beyond simply transporting goods or meals from a logistics hub to a consumer’s home, to providing a wealth of new last-mile services that improve convenience, security, and health for individual consumers and the community at large.
In addition to core navigation and safety functionality such as 360° surround view video, long and short-range radar, and LiDAR, autonomous delivery vehicles will be able to support a huge selection of additional features and applications to meet individual and community needs. For example, features such as facial recognition can ensure that the right person is picking up the delivery, while thermal sensors can scan the temperature of employees and other people who come close to the vehicle.
Integration with sophisticated cloud-based management systems will open up even more opportunities for enhancing the quality and convenience of last-mile services, such as ensuring the timely arrival of deliveries when the customer is at home to receive them. By building up a deep understanding of the community they operate in, the vehicles will also be able to act as virtual neighborhood monitors that send out alerts when they identify suspicious activities, or notice that an elderly resident hasn’t walked their dog according to their usual schedule.
As the cost of developing and building autonomous delivery vehicles continues to go down, a growing number of established companies and startups will enter the market. A particularly promising test bed for initial deployments will be in “geofenced” areas such as universities, retirement communities, and industrial estates, where the operation of the vehicles can be more easily managed. The experience and knowledge gained from these projects will prove invaluable when it comes to tackling larger scale implementations.
When Will Autonomous Vehicles Become a Commonplace Sight?
How long will it be before autonomous delivery vehicles become a commonplace sight on the streets of our towns and cities? Perhaps this will happen much sooner than many people think. Demand for such devices looks set to explode as delivery and logistics companies look to reduce operational costs and expand the range and convenience of the services they offer without having to hire additional drivers.
According to a recent AutoSens blog article, there are already over thirty companies providing autonomous delivery solutions in China – with many more expected to pile into the market. In the US, a growing number of retailers such as Walmart, Kroger, Lowes, and Target have also started testing autonomous deliveries using vehicles from the likes Nuro, Ford, and Waymo.
Sure, many of these trials are still in the experimental phases, but once the companies resolve the initial challenges of setting up last-mile autonomous delivery vehicles and services, they will be sure to aggressively ramp up the deployment of them.
In all likelihood, the most serious obstacle they will need to overcome will be gaining approval from local regulatory authorities for such services rather than the cost or complexity of deployment. While there is still room for improvement, the key AI, computer vision, sensor, wireless, and cloud technologies needed to safely operate fleets of autonomous delivery vehicles at low speeds in trained environments are already available.
Operators will, however, need to be able to demonstrate that they are committed to running their services in a much more responsible fashion than the first wave of mobility startups that flooded communities with thousands of scooters and bicycles that ended up littering the streets after being discarded by users.
But given the greater convenience that last mile services will bring to residents and businesses, the chances are that operators will be able to overcome such objections in all but the most conservative communities and make their autonomous delivery vehicles a familiar sight on the streets and sidewalks of our towns and cities.
Written by Richard Brown, Vice-President of International Marketing at VIA.