Driverless Delivery Vehicles

ISE professor Michael Kay is developing the next generation of home delivery

As Google perfects their driverless car, Dr. Michael Kay works on Driverless Delivery Vehicles (DDVs). Unlike Google’s car, the DDV is only one part of a vast system that may forever change the way we shop.

Imagine having almost anything you want delivered to your home, exactly when you want, for the price of what you would have tipped the pizza guy. The elderly and housebound would be able to have food and medicine brought right to their door. That’s the potential impact of the home delivery logistic network technology that Kay has been researching and developing since 2002.

The network would have automated distribution centers (DCs) throughout a designated area. These centers would receive orders, sort them and rank them for delivery. The DDVs are small, battery-powered transport units that are a cargo-only version of a driverless car. They would provide a good test area for driverless technology since they only have to travel short distances at slow speeds. Unlike driverless cars, The DDVs would not have to operate in adverse weather conditions. In good weather, they could operate 24/7. During the overnight hours, the vehicles would make transfers from DC-to-DC. This is helps to reduce road congestion.

Dr. Kay estimates that the savings to the $17 trillion U.S. GDP in manpower, energy and operations expenses could be as much as 4%. But, the retail landscape may end up looking quite different. Big box retail stores would become showrooms where customers could see and touch samples before ordering for home delivery.

Amazon and others are already using similar stochastic software modeling and robotics to automate their warehouse operations. Research is also underway at other universities to use RFID technology to code products to be automatically ordered when they enter the trash can. The “physical internet” is an international engineering initiative designed to increase worldwide efficiencies in the movement of products across all stages of the supply chain. It is this initiative that is driving the integration and compatibility of these interdependent platforms.

Skeptics see such automated services as a steady march toward human dependence on robots and technology. Dr. Kay cites similar concerns with the advent of the dishwasher and other innovations. “I have faith in the infinite capacity of humans to use the time and resources saved through this type of disruptive technology to live fuller lives and do things they never thought possible before.”