The self-driving future is not exactly here yet, but it’s coming quickly, at least based on some of the most recent moves in this space – a space that will impact payments and commerce much more as time goes on.
The latest news comes from Waymo, a Google sibling owned by Alphabet. According to a report from Reuters, Waymo has “begun offering fully automated rides, without attendants in the vehicle, to a few hundred early users of its robotaxi service in Phoenix.” The report added that riders must signed non-disclosure agreements, but few other details were available. “Waymo hasn’t disclosed how many fully automated rides it has given, but has indicated it is still a small number.”
Not Just Passengers
But, as the report confirmed, it’s not just passenger rides that are part of the progress in autonomous driving. Delivery is also a big area of focus. As Reuters put it, Waymo “is testing its so-called automated driver on Peterbilt trucks, and plans to expand trucking and commercial delivery applications of its technology as part of a project known internally as ‘Husky’.”
Even boats are becoming autonomous these days – another sign of the autonomous revolution that is playing out on college campuses, city streets and in the air above businesses and homes. That said, the disruption taking place these days – and the disruption that will come in the early part of the 2020s – is much more about getting products to consumers than enabling them to ride in comfort as a robot handles the driving (or sailing).
Indeed, while so many thoughts are targeted on the coming future of autonomous cars and vehicles, the real story right now is focused on food and other retail shipments, and on solving the always vexing problem of last-mile deliveries. Technology is progressing as consumer attitudes shift on what constitutes effective deliveries. While regulations have not yet caught up to some of the facts on the ground, the trend is clear: Autonomous technology promises to play an increasingly important role in fulfillment in the decades to come.
One recent example of that comes from growing world of food delivery.
Starship Technologies, a company that deploys self-driving robots, will expand and deliver everything from Starbucks to pizzas (but not booze) to college students all around the country, through partnerships with food companies Sodexo and Compass Group. The latest campuses that will get the delivery robots include Purdue University, University of Pittsburgh, George Mason University and Northern Arizona University. Indiana University will see them in September. Students can use the Starship app for 24/7 deliveries, and can also use a meal card for items that are covered in the plan. Delivery fees typically run between $1 and $2, and the items generally arrive within 30 minutes.
Starship Technologies CEO Lex Bayer said the robots will be in about 100 campuses by 2021. Starship has raised about $40 million to aid in the expansion and has raised a total of $85 million so far. Bayer said the delivery robots are ideally suited for college campuses, where there are often narrow passages and places where cars aren’t allowed to go, or cannot even fit. He also said the vehicles are good for the local economy, as they will help stores in the area.
That said, there are currently nine states that allow the robots, Bayer said, which will give the company a reach of around 100 million people. But he and other backers of the technology have good reason to be optimistic about the regulatory aspect of autonomous deliveries: Regulation of the autonomous robots, unlike self-driving cars and drones, has come relatively easily. They’re not as heavy and they’re smaller and slower, which means they’re not as dangerous or as likely to cause damage or death.
These are exciting times for the fans of self-driving vehicles, whether for passengers or deliveries. You can expect ongoing progress and more projects over the coming months and first year of the new decade.