Amy Webb (@amywebb)
is the author of The
Big Nine: How the Tech
Machines Could Warp
Humanity. She is the
founder of the Future
Today Institute and a
professor of strategic
foresight at the NYU Stern
School of Business.
AMY WEBB b LEADING EDGE
ike every teenager, I pined for
pizza—but not just because I
grew up in Chicago and our
pies are the best in the world.
The delivery guy was the
guitarist in a local grunge band
and looked the part: unruly
long hair like Chris Cornell’s; a
goatee; a wardrobe of black T-shirts. He’s why my friends and I
ordered lots of pizza. But meeting guys that way is going away,
thanks to autonomous last-mile logistics.
It’s hard to get excited about logistics. (It isn’t exactly the
stuf of Soundgarden lyrics.) But I’m here to change your
mind. The last mile is a vital link to your customers, and creating a new version of it means huge savings and opportunities.
Fully autonomous—that is, self-driving—cars remain years
away. But we may soon inhabit a world where 80 percent
of all parcels are delivered by other autonomous vehicles.
Pharmacy and cannabis orders, groceries, and on-demand
entertainment could come to you not in full-size cars and
trucks, but rather in robots, high-tech carriages, wagons
(yep, just like the one you had as a kid), and drones.
Why? Consumers increasingly expect fast fulfllment, not
to mention free shipping. As online sales continue to expand,
individual deliveries get increasingly expensive and complicated. (The U.S. is experiencing a trucking labor shortage.)
So Chinese retail giant JD.com has designed four-wheeled
robots capable of traveling as far as fve kilometers ( 3. 1 miles);
Japan’s SoftBank invested $1 billion in Nuro, which makes
similar machines; Walmart partnered with autonomous robot
maker Alert Innovation; and Kroger invested in Ocado Group,
a British grocer known for robotic fulfllment. On-demand
delivery service Postmates, meanwhile, will augment its
workforce in Los Angeles with Serve, a four-wheeled
autonomous rover that delivers up to 50 pounds of items and
navigates city sidewalks using computer vision cameras and
GPS. Similarly, venture-backed startups like Starship Tech-
nologies, Eliport, and Kiwibot are bringing consumers Dunkin’
Donuts and takeout meals. Other delivery bots, which custom-
ers typically track using apps, have roamed the sidewalks in
Berkeley, California; Düsseldorf, Germany; and London—and
the campus of George Mason University, near Washington, D.C.
Delivery drones are a focus for titans, like Amazon and
Google, and scrappy startups. One named Elroy Air has built a
drone that can carry 500 pounds and travel up to 300 miles.
Amazon Prime Air plans to ofer ultra-fast deliveries to those
who live near a fulfllment center. The goal: customers receiv-
ing a package of up to fve pounds within 30 minutes, via a
drone equipped with GPS and sense-and-avoid technology.
Amazon has also fled patents for warehouses in the sky.
In April, the FAA approved Google’s drone company, Wing,
which should begin delivering small products to consumers
in Virginia this year. Zipline International has used drones to
deliver medical supplies within a 50-mile range in Rwanda,
and is now testing in the U.S. Its drones use parachutes to
gently drop packages to their destinations. DHL and UPS
have run trials of drone delivery. And, last summer, the
U.S. Navy spent $794 million on a contract for 23 companies
to build unmanned undersea vehicles—swarms of submarining
drones—that can deliver consumer and military goods.
Though driverless delivery cars are still far of, they’re com-
ing too. In 2017 and 2018, Domino’s and Ford delivered pizzas
using autonomous cars in Las Vegas, Miami, and Ann Arbor,
Michigan. (Humans rode shotgun, for safety.) Others pursuing
that technology include Ace Hardware, Toyota, and Pizza Hut.
Such developments mean deliveries will be cheaper and
likely subject to fewer mistakes. Your customers, who will
track their packages in real time, will no longer worry about
tipping. The autonomous last-mile world will be good for
everyone, then—with the possible exception of broody long-
haired teenagers in rock bands.
Why you won’t be seeing that
cute pizza guy anymore.