The constant need for companies to stand out in our current consumerist market is changing the way we see, do and buy things. Technology plays a huge role in this; we can now use our phones to pay for items, our watches not only tell us the time, but can show us emails and text messages, and we can order from many fast food chains via touch screen boards.
As the way we buy things is changing, pioneering companies are now exploring various ways to address the current problems associated with delivery. They’ve noted that consumers want faster and more resourceful ways to receive their parcels; however, this needs to remain cost-effective, environmentally friendly and practical.
So without further ado, meet the potential mailmen of the future:
On December 7th 2016, Amazon made the first real package delivery in Cambridge (UK) with a Drone, using its ‘Prime Air’ option. The goal behind this development is to provide customers with a fast, 30 minute or less, delivery which requires no human pilot.
In order for this to work though, customers have to live within range of an Amazon depot, only order lightweight products (up to 5lbs), and have a large amount of space available for the drone to land. Also, the current drones are only permitted to operate during daylight hours when there are low winds plus good visibility and not in rain, snow or icy conditions.
According to Amazon, these drawbacks are just tests intended to improve the reliability of its service from depot to customer. They predict that by 2018 they will be starting the service.
If Amazon is able to create a device which can overcome its current complexities, then Drone deliveries may possibly be a part of the future of delivery; an answer to eliminating wait times and the cost of human labour.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan 5th 2017, Mercedes-Benz presented its intricate vision for the future of deliveries.
According to Mercedes, the Vision Van is an “intelligently networked delivery vehicle of the future”. Its purpose is to cut down on the amount of time it takes to sort packages for delivery as well as the actual delivery time. It’s fully automated cargo system is able to organise and prepare parcels needed for manual drop offs. The procedure takes just 30 seconds, compared to the minutes it might usually take when manually trying to find the right package. The van also carries two integrated drones to autonomously deliver parcels by air. Each drone has a capacity of 2kg for autonomous delivery within a radius of 10 km.
The electric van, which has no steering wheel or pedals, but is controlled by a joystick, can help boost the efficiency of delivery in built up urban areas by up to 50%. They are designed to produce zero CO2 emissions in motion, so will have access to low-emission zones, the numbers of which are only likely to increase in the future. They’re also built to be silent when moving – which opens up new business models for late night delivery services in sound-sensitive residential areas.
Despite this, the Vision Van still poses various concerns. Just like the Amazon Prime Air concept, you would need a landing device installed for the drones and it would also only be able to deliver parcels of a certain size, one that would be able to fit into the mechanised cargo loading system.
Described as ‘Ground Drones’, Starship robots are able to deliver 20lbs (9kg) of goods to local customers. The robots are able to drive autonomously, and use cameras, sensors and other technology to help navigate around public areas.
They also have integrated navigation and ‘obstacle avoidance software’ to enable the bots to steer clear of pedestrians or to jump over kerbs and cobbles, for example. Even though they can avoid obstacles by themselves, they are currently being monitored by human operators in control centres who can take over at any time.
Once they are capable of traveling alone, and demand increases, delivery fees could be reduced by 80% to 90%. The idea is that consumers could call for a delivery, which is carried to their door by the robot in between five and 30 minutes, for as little as £1.
Takeaway food delivery service – Just Eat, has trialled the robots to deliver meals to customers in London. The cargo trunk is sealed and, when the food arrives, it can only be opened using a code given to the customer. The benefits of using Starship delivery is its combination of low cost, convenience, traffic reduction and zero emissions. A disadvantage would be that the bot can only do a single delivery each trip, making it much less efficient than a driver who can stop off at several homes that are near one another.
Another of Starship Technologies’ biggest issues is ensuring that people don’t steal, damage, or interfere with the robots. On one of its trial runs with Just East, a member of the public attempted to rip the flag from one of its robots that was out on delivery.
However, the company claims that its robots have encountered over 3.1 million people in over 16 countries, and there haven’t been a large number of alarming issues with stealing or damages. Human operators are ready to step in if an emergency should arise and the bot’s nine cameras can also capture images as evidence.
Cambridge-based Mole Solutions is a concept which allows parcels to be delivered through an underground network of pipes. The idea is to avoid traffic which means an end to road congestion, pollution and delays in delivery.
The Mole would deliver parcels and post to addresses through an underground network of train tracks, much like the London Underground, or the Post Office Underground Railway system, which closed in 2003.
The system was trialed in Northampton; an urban environment that is suffering from major congestion and pollution problems caused by excessive road usage. The test proved that an installed ‘Urban Freight Pipeline’ would provide long-lasting economic, environmental and social benefits to towns such as Northampton.
The Mole is designed for use in delivering large quantities of goods to suppliers and businesses, but the founders hope that one day it could also be used for delivering single packages to domestic properties. The technology could also be good for reducing the time and money used distributing products around the country. It would also be more eco-friendly as the system would be powered by a magnetic field, called Maglev, which produces zero emissions.However, the current issue is the financial feasibility and the social impact that creating the underground system would cause. The post office underground railway system closed in 2003, as it was five times more expensive than using road transport for the same task.
If successful though, the initiative could cut costs in a number of other ways; most notably, the system would bypass the U.K.’s traffic problem. In London alone congestion is costing the economy more than £6 billion across the city as a whole.
With the constant progression of technology, nothing is safe, including the mailman. One day, seeing drones in the sky, and robots on the road, may be as normal as seeing delivery vans on the road.
Consumers want faster and more reliable delivery systems and companies are developing solutions, with the added bonus of a more eco-friendly transportation system. These concepts are in early stages of development and still present various complications, which would need to be perfected before they could come into practice. And although these concepts have their many advantages, there are also disadvantages too. Can we really rely on mechanical objects to give us the standard of service a person is able to give? We cannot verbally communicate with objects if there is an issue with the service, nor can we predict the variety of technical faults that may occur.
What do you think? Is the future of delivery evolving for the better or should we stick to what we already know?