With the emergence of drones and, now, self driving cars, a number of delivery companies are promoting these as low cost delivery options to companies that want to reduce delivery costs, especially for small businesses shipping low volumes (that fit in a large van or small truck) or retailers doing B2C delivery. But are they really low cost?
Yes, drivers cost money because, like all workers, they expect to be paid. And if you could obtain a driverless vehicle for the same price of a driver-required vehicle, you would save. But driverless vehicles come with a higher price tag. Now, the argument is that over the lifetime, the savings from a reduced driver workforce will cancel out the increased up from cost, and this would be true if the driverless option were as reliable as the driver-required options.
Now at this point, you’re probably asking what madness has the doctor contracted because, unlike humans that get sick, get lazy, make mistakes, and need rest — as long as the equipment gets the fuel and proper service, the software can drive it 24/7 — and this is true. The equipment can run 24/7, but this doesn’t mean you’ll get your stuff.
First of all, if there’s a programming error, or GPS error, there is no one there to detect and correct it. If GPS steers an Uber off course (and it does regularly in big cities with lots of tall buildings … sending multiple Ubers in a row a block away from where I was in Chicago recently despite the fact I was very sure to provide the address and not accept the default GPS location), the driver can say “there’s no one here”, call, and figure out where to go. If GPS steers a delivery drone off course, the customer’s neighbour gets a free gift and you get to eat the replacement cost as the credit card company is not going to rule in your favour in a dispute where the customer provided correct shipping information but you delivered to the wrong address. And the cost multiplies if an entire truck is shipped to the warehouse next door and you can’t prove it. (Even if you can, it does not mean you will get your goods or money back.)
But the biggest problem is that there is no guarantee that the goods will even make it to the destination. Goods being delivered driverlessly are very tantalizing theft targets. Not only is there no security to worry about, but there is no driver to even notice a theft as it is happening, report it, and get descriptions of the perpetrator — which means 0 chance of recovery. And do not think for a second that insurance is going to cover it in a cost effective manner. As claims start rising, and investigations into reasons continue, rates are going to either become unaffordable for driverless delivery options or become nonexistent options for the average business.
The argument that the drone is not interceptable until it drops low enough to deliver the package is not going to hold because signals can be hijacked and they can be hacked. (If top of the line cars can be hacked, how hard do you think it is to hack a bottom of the line drone?). And the argument that the delivery vehicle is secure until it reaches its destination is not going to hold either because if thieves can bust open a lock and rob a moving delivery truck with a driver unnoticed, how hard is it going to be to do the same to a driverless one. (Answer, even easier — no one to see the theft. Cameras do not count. They are easily hacked if they are digital and easily blinded by LED lights.)
Driverless trucks are already becoming theft ring targets, and delivery drones will soon be the target of bored hackers everywhere who will be able to get stuff en-route and not have to wonder if the order on the stolen credit card number will go through before the theft is detected and reported.
Driverless delivery is a tech-dream, but, for the time being, is not a Procurement one. You have been warned.