December 14, 2013
Robotic Delivery: Easier With Restaurant, Fresh Food?

For general parcels the hardest part for robotic delivery trucks is the last dozen few hundred feet to your doorstep. The truck can get near the destination but can't take the final step. A friend was telling me how he uses a web site to order restaurant food. The service places the order with the restaurant, picks it up, and drives it to your home. That got me thinking: It is easier to do robotic pizza delivery than robotic delivery of non-cooked goods. Why? You are usually there waiting for the hot food to get delivered.

Suppose you order a hot pizza or (being more health conscious) hot turkey, sweet potatoes, and beans. You will want to get the food as soon as it arrives. A robotic delivery truck could have lots of locked side compartments. The truck could send you a phone call or message as it approaches. You walk outside. Your smartphone talks to the robot car to say "here I am". The robot car scans your face. A compartment door on the side of the vehicle has a light that comes on to say "your dinner is here". You walk up and put your hand on a finger or palm reader. The door pops open. You pull out a tray with your meal. The door closes itself and away whisks the delivery truck to its next stop.

Maybe this can be made to work for regular deliveries too. Your smart phone could tell a delivery company's server when you are approaching home. Robots in a nearby warehouse could put your goods into a robotic vehicle that would then go thru your neighborhood stopping at places where people are home to receive goods. Computer algorithms would work out, based on past patterns, when it can get the most people home to deliver goods for a particular neighborhood.

The key piece of the puzzle is your presence at home to offload your goods from compartments whose doors open under computer control. The internal area of the vehicle could have robotic equipment that reloads each externally accessible compartment between stops.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2013 December 14 12:05 PM 

Nick G said at December 14, 2013 2:31 PM:

How about a standardized curbside box for homes? FedEx (for example) could subsidize this by providing them for free, and the truck would have something it could recognize, identify uniquely, and movement from the truck to the box would be greatly simplified by the standardization and shortening of distance.

Gerard Mason said at December 15, 2013 8:55 AM:

You don't need the face scanner, fingerprint reader or palm reader, just a token that gets sent to your mobile phone over the carrier lines or the internet when you order, and then gets checked by a bluetooth or similar reader when you walk to the van.

Of course, if you're living on the 8th floor in the "wrong" part of the city it's not convenient or even *safe* to walk to the van, so you'd prefer to get your pizza delivered by octocopter to your balcony -- just don't lean out too far when you pick it up!

Randall Parker said at December 15, 2013 6:39 PM:

Nick G,

I see a few problems:

- zoning. People don't want to see lots of delivery boxes in a subdivision.

- personal desires for one's own property. Each individual doesn't want such a delivery box in their yard.

- urban geography. Some places do not have good locations to even put the delivery boxes.

- parking. Cars will block the location of the box.

- cost of installation and maintenance.

Gerard Mason,

The fingerprint readers are so cheap (starting to get built into cell phones) that I do not see cost as a problem. Ditto face scanners or voice recognition.

Wrong part of the city: I expect technology to make dangerous areas safer by allowing us to have, say, an octocopter to scan for dangerous faces and to call the police if someone dangerous is approaching and even to attack. Or how about alerting you to change course to get away from a baddy? Or how about something like phone booths you can jump into to elude bad guys who are approaching? They'd lock and let you know when the baddies are no longer near by.

Engineer-Poet said at December 16, 2013 6:58 PM:

Let the octocopter deliver to the roof.  Problem solved.

For that matter, secured-access enclosed walkways between roofs and across streets could eliminate many of the opportunities for street crime by creating non-public streets, private rooftop parks, etc.

WJ said at December 30, 2013 2:00 PM:

Heh. Thanks for appropriating my idea without attribution ;-)

Robotic delivery trucks could happen. Suburbs would actually be the easiest to automate. The delivery service (Fedex, UPS, etc.) could email/text you, get a preferred delivery address and time, and place it on the appropriate truck. It then phones you when it's at your door. Office buildings, apartment buildings, and large volume deliveries of any kind would be more difficult.

I avoided the shipping mess this holiday season by having all my UPS & Fedex shipments held at their respective stores. I drive by both on my way home, and I prefer it to having my stuff left on the porch. Even my last minute stuff arrived by Christmas Eve, and nothing arrived more than a day a late. Given the shipping mess this year due to the surge in online shopping, I expect to see hold at UPS/Fedex offered as an option on Amazon and other sites very, very soon - certainly by next Christmas. Reducing the number of delivery stops they have to make is a quick and easy way to alleviate the pressure during a surge in volume.

Except for indigents and the very aged, most people are out and about at some point during the day. Getting product straight to people's homes isn't urgent - it's just getting it within a respectable travel distance.

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