Autonomous vehicles delivering to homes? Developers Nuro, Aurora, Cruise and more are scrambling to accommodate growth


SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Many of us have become adept at home delivery of food, groceries and retail products, and demand is exploding. Autonomous vehicles are proliferating and jostling to meet this demand, but not without some challenges.

Nuro is testing its curbside delivery system in Silicon Valley. Others, like Aurora and Cruise, are working on driverless long-haul tractor-trailers in Texas for large-scale deliveries. It’s a race to complete a human supply chain challenge.

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Two years ago, the volume of home deliveries was just over 20 billion parcels. In four years, this volume will almost double, according to data from a recent Harvard study.

At the same time, there is a shortage of 80,000 drivers in the trucking industry. Local delivery drivers are demanding higher wages.

As more self-driving vehicles hit the road, carrying both passengers and packages, concerns about safety and traffic congestion are growing, even as developers tout the benefits of clean energy.

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“It’s something that we’re open to having these conversations about the impact these vehicles have on everyone who shares the streets of our city,” said Dan Mitchell, community engagement manager for Nuro.

On the one hand, advanced detection systems using LIDAR provide a superior field of view and the ability to avoid a collision.

“It identifies movement. It identifies and tracks the movement of individuals, other cars in real time,” said Aidan Ali-Sullivan, government affairs manager for Waymo. “It’s inherently a better set of fees than my human eyes.”

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However, San Francisco transportation officials note that self-driving vehicles have come to a standstill when they don’t know what to do.

“You really can’t afford to have a sidewalk blocked off for two minutes, four minutes, 10 minutes or 20 minutes,” said Mark Fagan, who leads Harvard’s Autonomous Vehicle Policy Initiative. “I think that’s a concern I’d like to see more effectively addressed.”

In a recent study, he praises the advances in broadcasting but argues that local policies are not keeping up with technology. Another problem is the electricity supply to power all these new delivery vehicles.

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