Asleep at the Wheel: Robot Cars to Take Over Roads
Imagine getting into the driver seat of your car, merging onto the traffic-filled freeway and then putting on your eye mask and man Snuggie, for a much needed rush hour nap. The outlandish vision of a driverless car may seem too good to be true, but recent robotic car innovations by Google and other main auto-manufacturers are indicating robotic cars are a soon to be reality.
The Google’s Prius leads the way as the smartest car to ever be made. Equipped with a lidar—a $75,000 laser radar—the vehicle has a real time, 360 degree understanding of its surroundings. Every street sign, bush, cyclist and animal is registered by the car, and it navigates itself according to fluctuations in the environment’s stimuli.
VIDEO: The Driverless Car is Here
So far seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles entirely without human intervention, and have traveled the sweeping span of 140,000 miles with limited human interference. In an effort to prove the legitimate competency of the cars, engineers have tested the robo cars in exotic and challenging landscapes. Google’s Prius successfully drove itself through the crowded, steep and curvy terrain of San Francisco’s Lombard Street. Audi effectively sent their four-wheeled robot to the top of Colorado’s Pike’s Peak. And a Volvo car successfully drove a passenger to work, while he luxuriously read the morning newspaper.
As an ambassador to the robot race, the state of Nevada recently passed a robot-friendly law, which legalized the driving of self-steering cars. The law has Google’s lobbying campaign to thank for its initiation, as the company is striving to legalize the use of driverless cars across the country.
While the idea of a driverless car seems unsafe and outlandish, it seems like a safe bet when held up against the haywire unpredictability of human drivers. 32,885 people died from US traffic incidents in 2010. Scientists say these tragic results could be avoided by the hyper-aware robo vehicles. Driverless cars have faster reaction times than humans, never get drowsy or drunk, and most certainly never change lanes while updating their Facebook status.
VIDEO: Robot Cars at Intersection
What this means for the future of the supply chain is hard to say. While the prospect of autonomous cars are exciting, the mass production of such vehicles is still years away. However, the realization of such vehicles could mean drastic improvements in the sectors of risk management, product damage and time saving, as the robots would have logistics down to a cold, lifeless science.
FedEx is Reshaping Last Mile with Autonomous Vehicles
FedEx is embarking on an expanded test of autonomous, driver-less delivery vehicles to develop its last-mile logistics.
The US logistics firm piloted autonomous vehicles from Nuro in April this year, and the pair will now explore that further in a multi-year partnership. Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships, said the collaboration "will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener".
FedEx will explore a variety of on-road use cases for the autonomous fleet, including multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries, going beyond more traditional applications of the technology in single-route movement of goods from A-B. Exponential growth in ecommerce is spurring its broader experimentation in new autonomy solutions, Fed-Ex says, both in-warehouse and on-road.
“FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy,” said Rebecca Yeung, Vice President, Advanced Technology and Innovation, FedEx Corporation. “We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations.”
The changing role of couriers
Unlike structured delivery networks, operating under long-term partnerships and contracts, agility is where couriers deliver true value - and their ability to deftly solve last-mile fulfilment has most acutely been felt during the pandemic. For the billions of people around the world forced to stay at home to protect themselves and their communities from the spreading COVID-19 virus, couriers have been a constant. They may have been the only knock at the door some people experienced for weeks or months at a time.
But the last-mile has been uprooted by a boom in ecommerce, a shift that has been most apparent in the UK, US, China and Japan, according to the Global Parcel Delivery Market Insight Report 2021 by Apex Insight. These are markets with dominant economies and populations used to running their lives with a tap of a screen or double-click of a mouse.
“Getting last mile delivery right has long been a challenge for retailers,” says Kees Jacobs, Vice President, Consumer Goods and Retail at Capgemini. “In 2019, 97% of retail organisations felt their last-mile delivery models were not sustainable for full-scale implementation across all locations. Despite increasing demand from customers, companies were struggling to make the last mile profitable and efficient.”
Jacobs says that the pandemic alleviated some of these stresses in the short term. With no other option, consumers were understanding and tolerant, if not entirely happy, with longer delivery times and less transparent tracking. “But, as extremely high delivery demand continues to be normal, customers will expect brands to contract their delivery times,” he adds.
Last mile's role in ESG
Demand and volume weren’t the only things that have changed during the pandemic - businesses looked closer to home and as a result became more sustainable. Bricks and mortar stores were transformed from mini-showrooms to quasi-fulfilment centres. Online retailers and other businesses sought local solutions to ship more faster. In densely populated London, UK alone, Accenture found that delivery van emissions dropped by 17%, while Chicago, USA and Sydney, Australia saw similar emissions savings.