Currently driverless vehicles are slightly out of reach for day to day commuting (although it is getting closer and closer (it could be any decade now ;))
But in the commercial world, driver-less vehicles could slash costs for organisations and many are already experimenting with driver-less shipping and logistics, ranging from drones through to lorries.
It may surprise people to learn that certain organisations already employ automated vehicles for certain jobs and are seeing huge time, safety and cost benefits.
According to Wired, in the US in 2012, around 330,000 trucks were involved in crashes, killing nearly 4000 people. The article indicates that 90% of those crashes were due to driver error.
Employing vehicles with perfect reactions and the brainpower of their collective network could reduce these driver errors massively. Even being able to avoid collisions where a human driver is at fault and is about to cause an accident, an automated truck could take measures to protect both itself and other cars around it.
Rio Tinto (a mining company) are already operating 69 automated trucks for moving ore in Australia. These move huge amounts of materials around (collectively 20 million tons per month) and can operate 24 hours a day without getting tired. They estimate that each truck saves roughly 500 man hours a year. So their fleet of 69 trucks saves a massive 34,500 hours a year!
With the average pay for a truck driver in Australia currently being around $30 (AUD), that's saving over one million Australian dollars per year!
Image from Telegraph.co.uk
Time and Efficiency
With more and more retailers offering same-day delivery, making deliveries more efficient is key to keeping the costs low.
Currently, in the US, Amazon offer same day delivery in some areas, and in the UK retailers such as Argos offer same day delivery. The use of autonomous cars, trucks and vans should help make this common place. As the technologies begin to mature and legislation is ironed out, hopefully it won't be just the larger delivery companies such as UPS, FedEx and USPS that have access to the technology; smaller carriers, like one of the UK's favorites, DPD, could also start implementing autonomous delivery vans.
Many of our customers in the UK love DPD because they really do go that extra mile for delivering: they send you a text message with the driver's location at different stages of the delivery process, and provide a really narrow delivery estimate (usually within 30 minutes!) The drivers also do their darnedest to make sure that items are delivered on the first attempt. Even if there is no answer initially, or it's an office block where the recipient isn't immediately available, they routinely ring customers to make them aware that they are trying to deliver.
It is clear that in the future, if automatic deliveries are to work successfully, that there will also need to be automatic contacting (ringing the recipients phone?) to let them know that their delivery is on its way or that it has arrived.
Obviously if we enter the age where we can track in real-time our deliveries and pin point the exact location of delivery vehicles, hijacking a van full of goodies could be a good plan for the bad guys. Automatic calling of police to alert to a hijacking attempt would be a good call to add to these vans.
However, that is still possible today, with the weak link currently being the driver. There's no good to come from defending a van full of electronics if you're on an hourly wage. But when there is no driver and just some computer AI driving it, defending the vehicle and its contents or refusing entry becomes a lot easier!
It's probably a few years off, but as companies start looking for ways to save money we can be certain that automated delivery is going to happen. It's basically just a matter now of exactly when!
What do you think?
We would love to hear your thoughts on how driver-less delivery vehicles will impact your business in the future.