If two recent announcements at CES live up to their promise, you could soon have self-driving cars pulling up to your driveway to deliver pizza, groceries and more.
Yesterday, Toyota announced its futuristic “e-Palette” autonomous electric vehicle. Think of it as a white label mobility as a service. The e-Palettes are basically sleek, see-through, self-driving containers that companies could customize to deliver everything from food to fountain pens to flu shots. While this concept may seem fantastical now, the carmaker showed it is very real and announced it was working with the likes of Amazon, Pizza Hut and Uber.
Then today at CES, Ford announced a partnership with delivery service Postmates to test out self-driving deliveries. The two will do a pilot program throughout this year to see how well the technology works. Postmates joins existing Ford partner, Domino’s Pizza, and was a chance for the car company to show how it’s pivoting towards being a “mobility” company and how autonomous vehicles can be used to generate revenue.
When any of these dreams of autonomous delivery will become a reality remains to be seen. There are tons of technological, logistical and legal hurdles to overcome before roaming wood fired pizza or self-driven Slurpee deliveries arrive at your doorstep.
But all of this news points to a delivery-driven (pun intended) future of food retail. Amazon, Walmart, Albertsons and Target are all ramping up same day deliveries, and even smart-lock makers are creating in-home delivery platforms for when you’re away.
Drones can’t deliver big boxes, and smaller robots work better in dense, urban areas. Autonomous cars will have greater reach into the ‘burbs, and can get there fast. Plus if all a person in a self-driving delivery car has to do is run packages to and from the car to the front door (until the robots can do it), that shaves seconds and even minutes off of each delivery. Those small bits of time translate into much bigger efficiencies for a company with Amazon’s scale.
While the technology races headlong into achieving an autonomous delivery future, there are still big hurdles, not the least of which being municipal governments. Just look at San Francisco, which recently put the brakes on sidewalk robots. Creating safe spaces for speedy self-driving delivery cars will be a challenge.
Hopefully it’s a challenge we can all get behind and resolve quickly. Toyota hopes to have e-Palettes scurrying around town in time for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.