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Ever since Sony Aibo came to pass I have considered the question of whether man will be surpassed. Sony wanted to see whether computer power at the time could be as complex as a relatively simple animal – the dog. Better than a goldfish, not quite up to human.
We should probably consider how much a human is algorithm based, and the simple operation of making a cup of tea is easy to illustrate. We have a set of simple logic that handles tea bags, cups, filling the kettle all in a standard way, then slightly random things get thown in to complicate such as the water has been switched off – quite a complex and unexpected set of additional algorithms. You get the drift I hope.
When we look at humans in the logistics supply chain, it is conceivable to see long haulage trucking to migrate towards driverless operation. The algorithms for relatively constant speed control and out of town depots are probably not far away and likened to an autopilot on a plane, but as we move closer to the complexity of a dense urban environment things get messy in the algorithms programming front.
So the question stands as to when do you stop trying to take humans out of parcel deliveries, and we had to think about this when deciding on whether we were wasting our time with the products we have and are developing. Our ECO Hub II system assumes humans will carry on being integral in this arena and here is why we think so:
- A surface drone may be OK to move about a pavement and get to a door, but what happens next? Consider the tea making analogy and multiply by several hundred times and add you end up writing a set of algorithms that are as complex as a human brain to try and deliver through a door, down a stairs to a person that isn’t there and has moved desks and didn’t want the parcel anyway (add your own complexity to infinity)
- Even if you could write the logic and beat the complexity how expensive would the drone have to be – it would probably need legs and arms and lots of other human like abilities
- Erm… why not leave the human in place as he / she has arms and legs and is capable of very complex yet simple algorithms?
So our next question was whether the model could change. In B2B I am not sure but maybe in B2C you could ask the customer to leave there desk and spend 15 mins retrieving a package from the street, but we recon not in many cases as peoples time is becoming more precious.
So lets have a look at another angle – the benefit of humans in delivering the last 50 meters:
- Believing in Humanity I still feel we are less likely to assault a human to steal the laptop they are delivering – can this be said for an inanimate object that has stolen someone’s job?
- I cannot quantify the next one, but there is still something that says we want human interaction. As an Engineer with Dillbert tendencies I struggle a little, but I still like attention from Alice even if it is telling me how stupid I am
Then we get to drop rates and costs and business:
- ·The products we have developed and the mechanisation system we have within ECO Hub II is all focused on very high drop rates and 1,xxx parcels per drop. This is simple volume mathematics. The unmanned surface drone is limited in size, can only (at present) deliver to one person at a time and then return to base, needs to be manually refilled and sent out again – time.
- If we have hundreds of them on each busy street to hit the same densities as our human example with a larger volume, then there will be no room for pedestrians…
Maybe that is the answer of course. By the time we have written the algorithms and developed the complex drone to deliver the last 50meters, there will be no need for humans on the pavements or in the offices where the drones are delivering.
So I conclude the good old human with a ready smile is good to go for a few more years in the last 50 meters.