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The future of home delivery

Pedestrians and robots will soon share the pavements


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What a great idea! I would love to have a robot follow me around, especially when I go to Chicago where the crime is out of control. I can foresee the day when a personal robot could offer protection unequalled by any human body guard. Alone in an ally with inner city thugs? Whoosh...this robotic side kick could unleash a torrent of bullets, pig fat mist, slashing knives, and Willie Nelson music, all at the same time. It would be a wonder to behold. It could be better than watching an action movie with Jason Statham.

It could even follow your dog, gathering droppings to use in the next hostile encounter. Ah yes, the possibilities are endless.


While the opportunities are clear and mimic the usefulness of the donkey, wheelbarrow or porter, they may rapidly become the tool of terrorists wishing to deliver 10 kg of high explosive through a building's front door. Without the nasty bit of suicide.


This is really great and I can see an Amazon-style supermarket including walk-through cash-tills being one of the first real-life applicants of this technology.

Regarding unaccompanied devices, I have some worries which I'd like to find an answer to: Are these devices not likely to fall victim to vandalism or theft?

Eduard van Kleef


I suspect robots like this will become very popular very rapidly. AI will develop quickly enough to take care of the various nuisances encountered on the typical sidewalk.

Two larger problems need to be solved, however. The first is that in places such as Bath in the UK and San Francisco in the USA, hills will pose a serious problem.

The second is that people aren't always entirely able to resist the temptation to help themselves to other people's property. It isn't difficult to imagine, when such devices are fully autonomous, pushing one over and pilfering the contents.

If these two practical problems can be overcome, the future (and our sidewalks) may indeed belong to rolling robots carrying pizzas and other comestibles to us while we humans spend ever-more time slouched on the sofa playing videogames in which lithe CGI avatars perform adventurous feats far beyond the capabilities of our ever-larger and ever-flabbier bodies.


Using these robots for delivery will require advanced logistics since there won't be a van where all these packages will be stored. So the question is if this will be cheaper. But maybe a useful combination with self-driving vans will be a way forward.

Michael Dunne

Note, only now in manufacturing are they considering (and maybe implementing) ways to have robots "work" outside of caged work cells, and be integrated into workstreams with employees (assembly line workers). And manufacturing has the most experience with robots (automobile, components for autos, electronics, etc.); and the job of manufacturing is to remove exceptions from routines.
Considering the dynamism and vastly greater considerations/variables that come into play with typical streets of developed countries, I suspect it will take quite awhile for this idea to be brought to economical fruition.


I'll bet none of the boosters have calculated the number of robots carrying a few kilos each will be required to replace every van. Hint - a van can carry 100x what these robots can. And then comes the "what do you do if no one is home" problem and the likelihood of far more return journeys...

Delta-flyer in reply to FlownOver

Good question .... Here is my take:

If it's a delivery robot, then the business that's operating it pays taxes.

If it's a personal assistant that accompanies the owner, then it's the same as if the owner were pulling one of those old fashioned grocery carts behind him. Not the 4-wheel kind found in the stores, but the two-wheeled kind you pull behind you like a rolling suitcase. You're probably too young to have ever seen one.

The wrong episode is in the link, wrong because it is not the case I remember, this is a relatively recent episode, I had not seen this instance until I looked for it today.

As I have not been watching this series for say 20 years, I would think it was about 20 years ago in another much earlier episode that a Dalek levitated (I mean as broadcast). In the earlier episode the accompanying visual effects were rather different from in this later episode ???.

To give you some idea of how old I am, I can still remember some late 1960s episodes entitled The War Gamers which are now banned for their sensitive (or insensitive) content.

guest-ajammnjs in reply to CA-Oxonian

The second is that people aren't always entirely able to resist the temptation to help themselves to other people's property. It isn't difficult to imagine, when such devices are fully autonomous, pushing one over and pilfering the contents.


My property taxes will go up so the city can buy robot cops to nab the robot crooks!


WT Economist

How will they get up the steps?

In virtually every housing unit, single family or multi-family, I can think of the first floor and entrance door is up at least a few of them.


I would think that environmental impact would be substantial. Similar to replacing a bus with large number of smaller cars.
It always surprises me that such technologies get a pass from the environmental crowd.
I feel Uber's vision/platform (autonomous electric vehicles which are fully utilized by logistics-optimizing algorithms) would be better for the environment.


In one of the places where I live, the routine when something gets delivered goes like this. The parcel-bearing person first mounts the step to the front door of the block and deciphers the faded scribblings next to the bell buttons to determine which is most likely to be that of the intended recipient. That person is rarely at home, so other buttons are tried until somebody who will sign for the parcel and agree to pass it on later is found. These robots could not do this.

Obviously, the robot would need to contact the recipient – presumably by phone – not just to say when their parcel has arrived, but to predict when they will be at home. The latter is likely to be highly unreliable, partly due to the difficulty in understanding things like “Yeah, I’ll be back in a mo’.”, but also because rules of etiquette will not penalize a person for missing an appointment with a machine.
When this happens, what is the poor robot to do? It could just head back to the ranch (*), but that would waste a lot of time if the recipient really will be back in a mo’. In the future, will we find gangs of these things loitering in the streets. Will there be confrontations between robots of competing companies, for the best loitering locations?

(*) “Robot ranching”, remember, you read it here first.

Tiptoeturtle in reply to blueskyskip

I ordered a book online from a shop in Wuppertal in Germany and it was posted airmail to me in Rødvig in Danmark, a distance of about 500 km, the delivery time was 23 days, posted 7 October 2015, delivered 30 October 2015.
Mail from the UK to Australia by air mail now typically takes two weeks and can take five weeks. It used to take at least 4 days. Non-Royal Mail delivery services are presumably much quicker, otherwise they would go out of business (unlike the Royal Mail). Airmail from the UK to Danmark is about 10 days.
I am not comparing apples with apples, but neither is China the same apple as Britain, China is similar in area to the size of Europe. 2-3- days for China compares favourably with 23 days for Wuppertal to Rødvig. Other things being equal, both China and Wuppertal-Rødvig compare unfavourably with 12 hours for the UK.
I spend parts of each year in Danmark and in Australia, hence my familiarity with the demise of postal system standards.


Trying to be futuristic is the bane of much so-called 'news' these days. Forget it - for a long time.

Right now in China there is a myriad of private delivery services which are cheap, very fast and reliable. Things ordered on-line arrive in the south of China (mostly coming from the north) in 2-3 days. You get an SMS on arrival and can collect locally or even have it delivered to your door. Most of the things I buy are free delivery, otherwise costs are very low. This creates jobs and commerce and makes my 'shopping' timesaving and a lot easier. Wake up Britain.