The future of delivery will be electric... And driverless
Can you imagine ordering a pizza, or your weekly groceries, and it reaching your home by itself and without polluting? Welcome to the era of autonomous delivery: a reality in the not-too-distant future.
One year ago, this time of year, some residents of Ann Arbor, a small city in Michigan, enjoyed free delivery pizza for a few weeks. That’s not the striking part of the news, but in the way that the four cheeses and margaritas reached the homes: in a driverless car.
This pilot project promoted by Ford and Domino’s Pizza sought to show, in plain sight, how the future that is getting closer everyday will be: without emissions and in cars that drive by themselves. For this experiment, Ford did not even have among its ranks, a totally electric car, but it used a Ford Fusion Hybrid that at least could do most of the trips without needing to activate the combustion engine. For its part, the pizza company put together all of the logistics. Users make an order through the Domino’s GPS Tracker application, and then, a manager of the establishments puts the pizza in the boot compartment designed for that purpose, is capable of conserving heat, and that does not unlock until the customer confirms receipt and a code reaches their cell phone.
The American brand also presented its Autolivery concept at the latest World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, which proposes a future where electric and autonomous vans are used along with drones to deliver and pick up packages in urban areas. Ford is already planning to develop for 2021, a level 4 autonomous electric vehicle that will be intended for commercial use, specifically for delivering merchandise.
Also by Air
There are other brands that are also researching this possibility and are already developing their own prototypes. Toyota has presented this same year, at CES of Las Vegas, a new multi-use autonomous vehicle equipped with an electric propulsion system, whose sales to several companies like Amazon, DiDi, Pizza Hut and Uber have already been agreed upon. Akio Toyoda, the brand’s President, unveiled the vehicle, which for now is called the e-Palette. “The car industry is clearly in its most important period of change, given that technologies like electrification and connected and autonomous driving are achieving progress that we’ve never seen before. This announcement marks a great development in our evolution toward sustainable mobility, which shows our continuous expansion beyond the traditional cars and lorries, now including services for customers”, Toyoda said during the presentation. The e-Palette, with a modular design that is possible to adapt to each company’s needs in less than 24 hours, will start to carry out test journeys in the United States in 2020. There will be three sizes that go from 4 up to 7 metres. It will have two or four axes, and will be completely electric and its services would be required online or on an app.
For its part, the giant, Amazon, has already patented a system for delivering small packages via the air that—wait for it—helps to decongest cities. The service, still in the test phase, is called Primer Air, and will function through a mobile application: a fleet of electric drones will be in charge of the deliveries. The system was developed four years ago, but still has not been implemented because the company’s objectives are ambitious: each delivery be carried out within 30 minutes of making the order. The biggest hurdle they’ve had so far is the duration of the batteries, but luckily it’s one of the fields that has been evolving most in recent years (look no further than the increased autonomy of electric cars). For the time being, they still have to resolve the problem of landing the drones in some areas, and the company is investigating creative solutions, like the use of parachutes, so that the octopods remain in the air.
However, the greatest challenge is the regulations in the different countries and cities that, once again, are behind the development of technology. Spanish legislation has only recognized the transportation of products for commercial purposes in urban nuclei since the last Royal Decree of last year—but as a side issue. The new regulation does expand the margins to include medical services, security forces and other business activities, with some requirements: they must present a prior safety study; the drone plus what it is transported must not exceed 10 kilos; it does not fly at more than 120 metres of height. To manage the aircraft, drone operator authorisation is required, and an official course and the resulting certificate are obligatory. This contradicts Amazon’s concept of automated delivery. In New Zealand and Australia, however, the legislation is advancing in this regard: Flirtey, an autonomous delivery service operated by drones, has already delivered 100 books to universities of those countries.
In light of all of these projects in advanced phases of development, one thing is clear: delivery will soon cease to be one of the main reasons for pollution in city centres.