Reduction of Emissions can’t be done with Automatic Package Delivery Robots

Estonian Delivery robots

Packages might be delivered more efficiently by robots and self-driving automobiles. Will they, however, introduce new dangers?
In 2018, over a quarter of polled Americans claimed they purchased online at least once a month, a figure that has almost certainly climbed since the pandemic began. However, as the demand for online goods has increased, so has the necessity to transport all of these ordered things. It is a significant problem to make this delivery ecologically friendly, cost-effective, and accessible.
Delivery vehicles are predicted to climb by 36% over 2019 levels in the world’s 100 most populous cities by 2030, resulting in a proportional increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Increased traffic congestion and less parking availability may also contribute to the quantity of pollution produced by each car. Furthermore, when parking is scarce, individuals are more likely to park illegally, loiter in disability places, or otherwise obstruct access to walkways and public spaces.
Companies are experimenting with autonomous delivery cars to tackle these difficulties and cut labour expenses. Previous study on self-driving passenger vehicles has demonstrated that because this technology can drive considerably more effectively than humans, it has the potential to alleviate traffic congestion and, as a result, pollution.
According to Gregory Keoleian, head of the University of Michigan Centre for Sustainability, automated driving can help boost fuel economy. “On the flipside”, he adds, “you’re adding weight to the vehicle for the [electronic] equipment”, which may possibly outweigh any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Furthermore, in the absence of a delivery driver, businesses will want an alternate method of transporting products from the van to the customer’s doorsteps. However, the development and operation of robots capable of doing so might add to the system’s total environmental effect. It may also lead traffic to shift onto sidewalks.
If this is the case, “that’s not a smart technique to apply in the future”, according to Luyao Li, a sustainability researcher at the institute. This quandary prompted Li and Keoleian to investigate the consequences of these possible self-driving services, beginning with their carbon footprint.
They calculated the quantity of greenhouse gases released by various suburban delivery methods in their study, which was published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Their mathematical models examined a totally autonomous scenario, a wholly human-run alternative, and a hybrid of human-driven and robot-delivered solutions. The researchers also looked at how emissions vary between cars with internal combustion and electric engines, as well as between vans of various sizes, for all of these scenarios.
They determined that automation does not lower carbon emissions on its own. In reality, whether the products were carried or delivered by people, the totally autonomous system consistently created the same or slightly higher greenhouse emissions. Switching to tiny, human-driven electric delivery vehicles, on the other hand, had a significantly greater beneficial impact. “The transition from internal combustion engine cars to electric delivery trucks is truly where the largest consequences and potential lie”, said Keoleian.
While automation appears to have little effect on emissions, Sam Heshmati, an industrial engineer at the University of Kentucky who was not involved in the study, emphasised that there may be indirect advantages. Companies, for example, might use the enhanced efficiency of autonomous systems to reduce delivery times with correct programming. Heshmati demonstrated in a 2018 research that “even cutting one minute in [delivery] time has a big impact on emissions”.
Furthermore, while the combination of a self-driving vehicle and a delivery robot did not lessen the carbon footprint of home delivery, greenhouse gas emissions may theoretically be reduced if all-in-one delivery robots could accomplish their work on their own. Many businesses, like Star ship Technologies, are already pursuing this path by developing sidewalk delivery robots capable of transporting things to clients up to a few kilometres distant. This eliminates the demand for a roadworthy car, removing these additional pollutants from the equation.
But there’s also the issue of accessibility, because delivery robots, like e-scooters, have the potential to make sidewalks more difficult to use, especially for persons with impairments. Emily Ackerman, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School and wheelchair user, witnessed this personally last year when a delivery robot blocked access to a break in the curb of the pavement and nearly left her trapped in a busy crossroads on the University of Pittsburgh. Ackerman was a graduate student on campus at the time.
“The crosswalk was coming to an end, and I was… figuring out how to go around”, she explained. “I was put in danger by something that wasn’t intelligent enough to realise it was obstructing my path onto the roadway”.
She eventually managed to push her way past the robot and onto the sidewalk in a painful and perilous move. “I was genuinely upset. The curb cut was designed expressly for me”, She stated. Nonetheless, her access was denied by a robot that was merely doing what it was instructed to do: “wait for it to be safe to move”.
She then discovered that other handicapped persons had had similar experiences with these delivery robots. “It was not a one-time affair, nor was it a one-company thing”, Ackerman explained.
“We have to be thoughtful about how we deploy technology because there may be unforeseen repercussions”, Keoleian said, adding that deployment must be planned. There was a major questioning about, “Does this automation has any benefits and when can we experience it?”
According to Heshmati, taking social issues into account is critical to developing more meaningful and long-term delivery policies. Otherwise, negative encounters with new delivery technology may delay its implementation, regardless of its environmental benefits.

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