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?