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Holiday Package Seasons Arrives, A Look At The Future Of Delivery

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The Starship Technologies delivery robot goes through it's paces during a demonstration at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

The Starship Technologies delivery robot goes through it’s paces during a demonstration at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.

AP Photo/Steve Helber

The number of online orders placed this week might skyrocket past last year’s numbers as holiday shoppers, who are expected to spend $7.8 billion online this Cyber Monday, continue to click the “add to cart” button.

With online shopping on the up each year, companies like Amazon have long been experimenting with ways to make those deliveries more efficient. But Anne Goodchild, founding director of Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center says, it’s a little too soon to think a robot will deliver your next Cyber Monday TV.

Goodchild, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Washington, joined Morning Shift to talk about how close — or how far — we are from technology doing most of the delivery work.

Robots delivering packages

Anne Goodchild: The next step would be assistive technology: the robots that basically can follow a delivery driver. From a technology and methodology standpoint, that’s an easier solution that a robot navigating the environment by itself.

It’s like a dolly that is self contained, so instead of the driver having to push a dolly or carry packages, the little robot can follow the driver. That’s an easier ask. It’s a more controlled environment than the robot actually operating entirely independently.

And delivery drones?

Goodchild: Drones are being tested, and I think the technology will be available fairly shortly. And I think they will be applied in controlled environments or more rural environments. The vision I think most people have is of them in an urban environment, which is much more complex. There are many more demands on that airspace, there are more obstacles, there are more hazards below the drone. So, I think that is not where we’re going to see them used first, unless there’s rooftop delivery where we can have a controlled and sort of uncongested airspace where delivery drones can operate.

Automated vehicles might not be far away

Goodchild: It’s being tested. A truck has a whole bunch of packages in it. What if it stopped, and you [could] go up to the truck and pull off your packages? That’s not that hard to imagine, but that’s what an automated delivery vehicle might look like.

For the time being, customers will still have to do some work

Goodchild: The first solution might be, well, it pulls up at the curb, you go out and pick up your package — that we could do pretty soon.

The very, very hard part is entirely replacing what we have now, which is that [the vehicle parks] and some kind of robot actually collects a package, walks along the curb, opens doors, gets in an elevator, or climbs stairs — that’s a much bigger ask for the technology.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment, which was produced by Daniel Tucker and Nereida Moreno, and adapted for the web by Arionne Nettles.

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