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Driverless delivery disruption: the comeback of the milk box

US startup Nuro is already testing autonomous deliveries in Arizona. (Photo: Nuro)

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René Tellers
René Tellers

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Autonomous cars will disrupt the way we shop, Disney and Audi release an intriguing trailer and Germany is struggling for a good connection: read our weekly analysis of the most important news in automated driving!

Older folks will vividly remember the times when milkmen delivered their dairy products to a milk box right at the doorstep. While those boxes are probably gone for good, a more technologically sophisticated equivalent is shaping up to become a must-have. According to a new KMPG study (which has been added to our studies database), such boxes will be needed for driverless bots to deliver all the products that people ordered online.

Rarely have I read a driverless car study that suggests such a drastic disruption. KPMG predicts that the arrival of autonomous delivery will lead to “a profoundly new delivery ecosystem”. Vehicle miles traveled for deliveries will more than triple, while the number of consumer shopping trips will essentially half by 2040. The reason: “Autonomous delivery vehicles will be far less expensive than current delivery vehicles because they will be lighter and more fuel efficient,” the study predicts. By eliminating the labor costs of drivers, the delivery prices will plummet.

Now the advent of e-commerce and online deliveries is by no means a new development, just ask owners of book or clothing stores. But if KPMG is to be believed, “retail brick-and-mortar become less necessary,” because driverless pods will lead to an exploding same-hour delivery market – this is where the modern milk boxes come into play. So long, Walmart?  

The implications for urban development and our infrastructure cannot be overstated. How will cities use the land formerly occupied by grocery megastores or malls? Will we need dedicated lanes for the gargantuan flow of driverless delivery vehicles? One aspect I am missing in the KPMG study is this: if people make less trips to the grocery store but self-driving delivery skyrockets at the same time – can we expect a zero-sum game in terms of congestion? Surely, we cannot want urban traffic to increase any further. What KMPG just published is a vision. I’m just not convinced it’s a desirable one.

Disney and Audi: Let them entertain us

With only one month left in 2018, CES 2019 is already just around the corner. Last week, a secretive trailer was released that teased: “Audi meets Disney for a date at CES”. According to Roadshow, Audi and The Walt Disney Company will unveil a partnership for in-car entertainment in Las Vegas  – tapping into a potential billion dollar market.

What we know so far is…just enough to be intrigued. Nils Wollny, Audi's head of digital business strategy and customer experience, told Roadshow: “I'd call it a new media type that isn't existing yet that takes full advantage of being in a vehicle. We created something completely new together, and it's very technologically driven." 

While he refused to go into more detail, this most certainly means this will be more than just a licensing deal for Audi to show Avengers and Star Wars movies in their autonomous cars. According to Roadshow, Wollny repeatedly referenced Audi’s Long Distance Lounge Concept, a Level 5 interior design study that was introduced in 2017. In that concept, TFT foils embedded in the windows function as screens.

We will be watching the CES presentation closely. You know who else will be? Amazon, Netflix and Apple, just to name a few. They are the media giants who are currently battling it out for worldwide entertainment domination – and I bet driverless car interior is going to be another battlefield.

Ain’t nothing but a 5G thing

Audi manager Wollny also hinted that 5G technology will be integral for their entertainment plans. In Audi’s home country, the German government has just released the conditions for telecom companies who want to acquire 5G licenses. A heated debate followed.

A 5G antenna in Berlin. (Photo: Deutsche Telekom)

While telecom companies are bemoaning unprofitably high investments, consumer advisors fear that rural areas in particular will remain “white spots” for fast internet. Anja Karliczek, Minister of Education, infamously said that “5G won’t be necessary on every milk jug.” However, all highways are supposed to be equipped with the technology by the end of 2022.

It’s not like autonomous driving will only become a reality with nationwide 5G network coverage. In the end, the cars’ technology needs to be redundant and even work with no network connection at all. But to reap all the expected benefits of driveress cars, for instance tackling congestion and enabling anticipatory driving, 5G will be an indispensable requirement. And my feeling is that its low technological ambitions won’t help Germany in the long run. 

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),                        

René Tellers

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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