Is Google’s self-driving delivery truck the future of the last mile?

0
Discussion
Feb 12, 2016
Matthew Stern

With all the talk of Amazon’s push for package delivery by drone, it has become easy to imagine a drone-dominated sky in the near future (if the FAA plays ball). But another big tech player is exploring a different solution to win the future of last-mile logistics. Quartz reported that Google has patented an unmanned, self-driving delivery truck.

The patent, according to the article, describes technology resembling that of the self-driving car that Google is currently testing. The delivery truck will be able to automatically navigate to the houses where deliveries are needed, stop to make deliveries and return to the distribution center to collect more packages when the deliveries are complete. To facilitate the secure delivery of the package, the patent further describes a system that will allow customers to enter a pin number into a keypad, opening a locker from which customers can collect their packages. It also suggests that an NFC reader or credit card could be used to unlock the correct package locker.

Google’s self-driving delivery truck might be one of the more ambitious solutions in an ambitious space, but they’re not the only ones trying to do on wheels what Amazon wants to do in the skies.

Last month, ZDNet reported that two of the founders of Skype were demoing another wheeled delivery option. The knee-high six-wheeled self-driving delivery vehicle looks more akin to a Roomba than an automobile. The creators intend it to be used for local deliveries, such as groceries. Users of the device can follow its path from the distribution center to the door on a mobile app.

In addition to the self-driving truck, Google is also working on a way to hybridize airborne drones and machines on wheels. According to a PSFK article, Google filed another patent for a “delivery receptacle.” In order to mitigate concerns over drones falling out of the sky with packages, the receptacle rolls on the ground, locating drones via beacon; then accepting drop-offs and moving the package to a secure location for pickup.

Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office – Patent No.: US 9,256,852 B1

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think self-driving delivery vehicles are a better alternative to Amazon’s planned drone delivery program? What automated delivery model, if any, do you see as being most viable for retailers and customers?

Braintrust
"The race to solve the "last mile" is heating up ... and it’s interesting that Amazon and Google are driving the solutions more than the current package carriers."
"As a resident in central Florida during "snow bird" season, I can tell you that I am not personally excited about adding self-driving vehicles to the already dangerous mix of existing vehicle and driver combinations."
"There has likely never been an Amazon order made in which the buyer didn’t want to receive his or her purchase sooner rather than later. However, this won’t be the case for most viable retailers and customers."

Join the Discussion!

8 Comments on "Is Google’s self-driving delivery truck the future of the last mile?"

Notify of

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

The race to solve the “last mile” is heating up … and it’s interesting that Amazon and Google are driving the solutions more than the current package carriers. Economic solutions for point delivery will become a major differentiator in competing for omnichannel customers going forward.

Amazon’s drones are perceived to be of the flying variety (there could be ground versions as well). Aerial drones may work well in urban areas, but the challenge with aerial drones are limited flight time and distances. What if you have to reach a customer in the ‘burbs?

Delivery-style vehicles like the prototype pictures offer a lot of economies of scale, with multiple customer deliveries in one trip at far greater ranges. Delivery vehicles such as this could cause great disruption not only for physical retailers, but the current services like UPS, FedEX, DHL, etc. Then again, why couldn’t current carriers deploy self-driving vehicles as well?

Lest consumers get too excited, hell hath no fury like a crashed drone or self driving vehicle. Miles to go before proven, reliable safe delivery becomes the norm.

Mark Heckman
BrainTrust

As a resident in central Florida during “snow bird” season, I can tell you that I am not personally excited about adding self-driving vehicles to the already dangerous mix of existing vehicle and driver combinations. However, I do believe that the code will eventually get cracked on automated delivery whether it be by air or ground. The ROI on such solutions is just too compelling for it not to be.

Drones appear to have the best opportunity to emerge as an earlier solution, as air space is not as competitive and cluttered as road space. With that said, if I am a UPS or FedEx driver, I would NOT lose too much sleep over job security. It appears that while the technology is there, the inherent issues of navigating space that others share remains a formidable challenge.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Let’s assume the self-driving vehicles are safe. Let’s assume they get to the destination. In this model the customer has to be there to accept delivery. More important, the customer has to come outside to accept delivery. What if they can’t meet the truck? What if they hold up the truck for their next delivery? There has to be more to this model. I’m sure these questions have already been addressed. Would be interested in the answers. The “hybridizing” of airborne drones and driverless vehicles may be the answer.

Robert DiPietro
BrainTrust

The last mile is always where the rubber hits the road, literally. I don’t think an automated delivery truck will be the answer for a couple of reasons: 1) we aren’t ready for a self driving vehicle to navigate traffic and other crazy drivers; 2) in this solution you can’t “driver release” a package and in the suburbs, that is the norm. In the city, you need to deliver to someone.

The drones seem a better approach as they avoid traffic and can release the package.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
BrainTrust

The Last Mile issue may be solved in our lifetime — just not sure who will do it! Will it be drones, self-driving vehicles, Uber, local entrepreneurs or 3D printing??

William Hogben
BrainTrust

Flying drones and driving drones are not in opposition — rather they solve very different problems and both will be part of the modern delivery mix.

Flying drones not only expend energy getting to their destination but fighting gravity all along the way — and cannot compete with ground-based drones for efficiency or ability to deliver large packages. They’re great for delivering something small that you need ASAP, like getting a defibrillator to someone who’s heart has stopped.

On the other hand ground-based drones like Google’s work for all size packages, spend much less energy and use existing infrastructure. So I would predict that we’ll see the majority of deliveries by weight and count fulfilled with ground-based drones.

The advantages of autonomous vehicles are enormous — from energy and material efficiencies to improved road safety and faster speeds. It is going to happen. Delivery drivers (and drivers in all fields) need to take this seriously and have a plan for when their industry automates.

Matt Talbot
BrainTrust

Both Amazon’s delivery vehicle and its planned drone delivery program will provide benefits to customers from a timing standpoint. There has likely never been an Amazon order made in which the buyer didn’t want to receive his or her purchase sooner rather than later. However, this won’t be the case for most viable retailers and customers.

One of the things that customers love most about brick-and-mortar buying is the experience (if retailers are doing things right). There’s just something about seeking expert advice and sharing the love of a product or brand with someone who is equally as excited about your purchase as you are.

As technology starts to catch up to various services, retailers need to keep in mind that customer service is irreplaceable. A 1:1 experience with a customer can be the difference between a one-time purchase and a lifetime brand evangelist. If this means not having the fastest or most advanced technology on the market, then so be it. But when it comes to service, quality needs to trump quantity every time.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

First of all I think the drone idea was a publicity stunt, Amazon’s version of building a wall on the border and getting Mexico to pay for it — lots of hype, lots of conversation, just not too much reality.

To be viable, self-driving trucks would require a complex infrastructure, need to resolve an untold numbers of security issues, etc.

The real question is, after you build out all that infrastructure (lockers et. al.,) how much money are you really saving? And where are you going to put those lockers where they are both secure and non-intrusive?

As a rule I try to keep my thinking expansive, but on this issue count me firmly in the skeptic’s camp until further notice.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The race to solve the "last mile" is heating up ... and it’s interesting that Amazon and Google are driving the solutions more than the current package carriers."
"As a resident in central Florida during "snow bird" season, I can tell you that I am not personally excited about adding self-driving vehicles to the already dangerous mix of existing vehicle and driver combinations."
"There has likely never been an Amazon order made in which the buyer didn’t want to receive his or her purchase sooner rather than later. However, this won’t be the case for most viable retailers and customers."

Take Our Instant Poll

How likely is it that we will see the successful implementation of self-driving delivery trucks in the next five years?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...