Future with driverless cars 4: Cargo


This is part four of a series on changes that driverless cars may bring. I expose some of the ideas I have, mostly quite practical things. We moved project troglodyte to it’s own website, so the more patent centric recap of the Google driverless car patents can be found from there.

Below I assume that the problem has been solved completely. Driverless cars can access any part of the road network, function even when there are people darting around and can handle any weather including lots of snow and very slippery conditions. Accident levels are same or lower than currently and people are not scared to use autonomous cars.

See also: Rental vs. taxi, Mass transportation, Pirvate cars, Cargo, Parking and driving empty, Zoning Traffic volume and Externalities

Transportation of containers between terminals is an obvious place for automated vehicles. Both the loading and unloading can be automated and the vehicles can create a rolling conveyor belt. Specialized vehicles exactly the length of the standard shipping container will likely be built, these vehicles can form trains on faster roads and thus lower their energy consumption considerably.

For cargo travelling shorter distances and requiring manual unloading upon delivery drivers might still be necessary, although they might not actually drive the vehicle. But even here a driver may not be needed. With some development it might for example be possible to unload a truck using its own truck mounted crane by remote control. The crane operator sits in an office and directs the crane using cameras and a communications link. There might still be problems like how to judge how good the support is for the vehicle when the crane needs to move a heavy load far away from the truck.

Remote operation might also be usable when the environment at the delivery or loading point is not easily standardized. Examples might be a quarry or a landfill. The vehicle would be autonomous on the road network, but remotely controlled when when the environment is difficult. This would make it possible for one driver to control several vehicles. The same operator could also control the loading equipment for example a wheel loader.

For light cargo: delivery of pizzas, groceries, stuff bought from the net etc. automated vehicles can be a real revolution. A suitably equipped vehicle may quite easily open a container when a code is given and the customer can take what was delivered. Significantly, driverless cars may make it cheaper to order a carton of eggs from the store than to drive there and buy them. Products for several customers can be delivered in the same run and the cost divided between the receivers whereas when driving to the store you pay for the whole trip. Currently in many cases the cost of the delivery vehicle driver tips the balance the other way.

It may be a bit futuristic to think that specialized pizza vehicles able to make the product would drive around the suburbs, but it is by no means impossible. Making of a pizza is not that difficult and delivering it fresh instead of 30 minutes old may make all the difference. The pizza would be ordered through the net and the pizza van would start making it so that it is right out of the oven when it arrives at the delivery location.

Acknowledgment:  Thanks to Laston Kirkland for thoughtful evaluation of these ideas.