Imagine you’re behind the wheel of your car reading the newspaper and eating breakfast – and not putting yourself or others at risk. The car does all the work. You just sit back and enjoy the ride, the crossword puzzle, or your egg-and-cheese burrito, whatever the case may be.

Many people believe self-driving vehicles are the future of driving. We also think they are the future of logistics.

Dozens of car manufacturers and technology providers are working to bring a vision of self-driving cars to reality. Logistics companies – including the U.S. Postal Service – are also researching ways to benefit from the technology’s promise of fewer accidents, reduced fuel costs, and improved productivity.

Our new white paper, Autonomous Vehicles for the Postal Service, notes ways the Postal Service could use the technology in last mile delivery and in trucking. We identified seven opportunities worth exploring, including:

  • Autonomous vehicles that assist carriers in delivering mail:
  •   For walking routes, the vehicle could follow the carrier, reducing walking time to and from the vehicle as well as lightening loads to carry.
  •   Driving the letter carrier: Ideal for curbside delivery, the autonomous vehicle could drive itself from mailbox to mailbox, allowing the carrier in the van to prepare the mail for the next address instead of driving.
  • Mobile parcel lockers that drive themselves to households.
  • Autonomous trucks for handling mail transportation on highways.

The paper acknowledges that none of the suggested use cases could be fully deployed today. Furthermore, we note the various speed bumps that remain, including a lack of clarity around state and federal regulations, as well as a public that remains unconvinced of the technology’s benefits. Cost of the nascent technology is still prohibitive.

Still, the industry is racing toward solutions. The Postal Service would be well-served to research and test the technology now to ready itself for the transportation network of the future.

Our paper describes a step-by-step approach for USPS including: continuing to test the technology, gradually automating its vehicles, and refining its autonomous vehicle strategy as the technology, market, regulation, and public perception evolve.

Are you excited or apprehensive about self-driving vehicles hitting the road? Is now a good time for USPS to begin investing in the technology or is it premature? Which ideas above are appealing to you?

Comments (3)

  • anon

    Dear Sir/Ms, Can you please provide the current status of packages being delivered to the United States Virgin Islands? Understanding St Thomas, St Croix and St John have challenges with the latest hurricanes, I am wondering if shipments have resumed and where are they being shipped from now that Puerto Rico hub is under construction. Thank You, Kay

    Oct 04, 2017
  • anon

    Hello Kay, Thank you for your message. The OIG is an independent agency of the Postal Service and day-to-day mail delivery issues are outside of our jurisdiction. If you have not already done so, please try contacting your local Post Office. If you have already done that, try contacting USPS Customer Service, (800-275-8777), or file an online complaint with Customer Service on the USPS Website. They also regularly update the service status on their webpage.

    Oct 04, 2017
  • anon

    The options you give for delivery issues don't work in Washington State. You don't deliver to my address, you will however lie to law enforcement to that address to make threats. You don't do your job in an honorable fashion. Law abiding combat veteran can't get his mail, what say you? No honor, check your Twitter

    Oct 17, 2017

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