The United States postal service is preparing for a future in which drivers won’t be a required part of mail delivery. It’s has been developing a self-driving mail truck, and now the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has publicly revealed a quintet of ways in which self-driving mail trucks will change the way you get your mail.
In a 34-page report, the USPS outlines everything from more efficient operations to truly dramatic changes in the way we think about mail delivery.
Suburban and rural routes
Perhaps the most predictable of the potential uses is also the most useful. In suburban and rural routes, in which mail carriers generally never leave the mail truck, couriers will spend their time organizing and sorting mail while the truck handles the driving duties. Obviously, this makes for a more time-efficient process, reducing or even eliminating the need for additional stops to sort upcoming deliveries.
Inner city routes
Citing a German governmental white paper, the OIG expects that utilizing a self-driving mail truck’s ability to hunt for its own parking spot will save upwards of 40 minutes each day. As the theory goes, the truck would drop off the courier along the designated route. The courier would then deliver the mail as usual, while the truck heads off in search of a place to park. When finished, the courier would simply summon the truck via an app, and continue on to the next route.
Strip malls and some suburban routes
In some locations like strip malls or some suburban locales, the vehicle’s ability to navigate around complex obstacles — parked cars and pedestrians, among others — would enable it to follow the courier, thus reducing the walking distance required to deliver heavy packages. The most tangible benefits come in the form of a less fatigued carrier, but the USPS considers the time saved walking back to the vehicle to be significant.
Even if delivery routes themselves were to remain unchanged, self-driving mail trucks would cut down on wasted time by eliminating need for couriers return to the post office after delivering a truck’s mail load. A second truck could be dispatched, essentially re-stocking the courier with a fresh batch of parcels.
Mobile P.O. Boxes
In what is easily the most radical idea, the USPS sees self-driving vehicles a sort of mobile P.O. Box. Essentially, once a package has been delivered to the post office, the customer can schedule a delivery at any time of the day, meet the vehicle curbside, enter a code to access its locked compartment, and retrieve the package. According to OIG, this would reduce front patio package thefts, as well as the need to obtain a signature upon deliveries. It’s like a more adaptive version of Amazon’s Locker service.
Several companies are already working on similar ideas, including DPD Germany and Google. It’s also similar in practice to a self-driving delivery method on which Ford and Dominos are currently collaborating.
Ultimately, all of the ideas put forth by the OIG are quite a few years away, and are dependent on many factors ranging from the development of technology to clearing legislative roadblocks that govern how self-driving vehicles are implemented.