These Autonomous Delivery Vehicles Could Rule The Roads (And Skies) In A No-Human-Contact Future

Here in Malaysia, we are almost three weeks into a month-long quarantine. While we are lucky to have a host of delivery services for food, groceries, parcels, etc, there is still the worry that the virus can be transmitted via packaging or even the delivery person (who is no doubt working tirelessly, so, thank you). There have been varying reports on whether COVID-19 can survive on different packaging materials and for how long. Some businesses, who are still operational, are promoting reduced human contact in day-to-day operations, in the handling of the products and in transactions to reassure their customers.

Like it or not, the adage “no man is an island” no longer applies. Businesses could start looking at further automation and reducing human contact throughout their supply chain—and that includes during the delivery stage. These Autonomous Delivery Vehicles could be plying the roads and skies soon to deliver your pizza or package:

The Pizza Car

In 2018, Ford teamed up with Dominos to deliver pizza but without the pizza delivery guy in the equation. Based on their trial run, you would receive a text message when the autonomous pizza car was near, with a code to unlock the door and retrieve their pie.

Combine that with the now-defunct Zume Pizza’s idea to automate the pizza-making process when the order comes in and have the baking take place in the in-car oven, timed perfectly to arrive at your doorstep just as it is done, and your pizza might never even be touched by any human hand except yours.

The downside is that you would have to leave your home and walk all the way to the curb instead of having the pizza handed to you at the door. But on the bright side, you don’t have to tip the car (maybe just give it a pat on the butt…er…boot).

The Ghost Delivery Car

There is no reason to stop at just ghost-delivering pizzas. With the same technology and processes, an automated car could be used to deliver just about anything that can fit inside. And that’s what Ford was thinking too by, along with Volkswagen, backing Argo AI, a technology platform company that aims to “deliver a fully integrated self-driving system” for “safe and reliable deployment in ride-sharing and goods delivery services”. The start-up is currently testing their system, including maps and cloud support, across the USA. They do not manufacture their own cars but work with established automakers to integrate their systems into their existing models. 

Delivery Drones

Imagine that a slice of airspace is allocated for high-speed, aerial drones carrying parcels and fulfilling online purchasing orders. Automated drones that have been linked to the GPS, making its way without human navigation and dropping off your parcel at your doorstep, lawn or balcony (with collision avoidance sensors, of course) could very much become reality.

In fact, Amazon has not only dreamt of it but has built several prototypes, calling the future service Amazon Prime Air. And according to Jeremy Clarkson, it will happen in the not-too-distant future (they paid him to say that, of course, but it’s not total bullcrap):

Self-Driving Freight Trucks

Bulky trucks that can drive themselves sounds like a great idea—they never get tired and can drive throughout the night during off-peak hours. Daimler, the automaker behind Mercedes-Benz, also thinks so and had two Freightliner Inspiration Trucks equipped with lidar sensors, cameras, radar and self-driving software—which altogether is called the Highway Pilot system—tested in Nevada. But Daimler insists that the Highway Pilot is not meant to take over human truckers but simply to assist them…perhaps, considering present circumstances, Daimler might think differently now.

Otherwise, other companies like Plus.ai, founded by a group of Stanford PhD Students, could dominate long-haul fully-automated trucking. In December last year, they managed to successfully have an automated truck deliver a refrigerated trailer full of butter across the USA in just three days.

We might never have to see another human ever again. See you never.

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