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 of 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.