Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Synchronous Delivery Problem

Parked at the end of the alley behind our house as I set out on my morning bike ride was a large pickup marked Nuro hauling a large trailer with some vehicle inside. I often see Nuro's "autonomous" Priuses in our neighborhood, so I assumed one had failed and was being collected. Near the end of my ride a few blocks from our house I passed another. At the end of the alley as I returned was this unfamiliar vehicle, so I stopped and took a picture.

As I watched it drove forward about 15 feet, paused, drove forward another 15 feet and stopped about 4 feet from the back of a parked SUV. It thought for a while then backed up, returning to near its starting point. I understand, I too think it is a problem that our streets are infested with parked monster SUVs.

Unlike Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" I don't think testing the Nuro-bot on our streets is a significant danger. They move slowly, make noise, are clearly cautious, and aren't being used by cult members. Below the fold I question not the technology but the economics.

Google's summary of nuro.ai is:
Nuro uses AI and machine learning to make autonomous vehicles that generate revenue delivering food, groceries and packages.
Now, I can see that delivering take-out food is a potential market, because those deliveries tend to be synchronous. If I order a pizza the probability that I'm available to receive it when it shows up is very high. But grocery (Instacart) and even more so package deliveries (Amazon) are asynchronous. The delivery driver drives to the address, which the Nuro-bot can do, walks to the door, drops the package, takes a picture, walks back to the vehicle and drives off while the system sends the recipient a e-mail. The Nuro-bot can't do any of that. OK, so in the rare case when a signature is needed, the delivery driver rings the doorbell and waits briefly before leaving a "we-tried" tag. But the point is that the economics of these deliveries depends upon their being asynchronous.

Suppose the Nuro-bot is tasked to deliver my typical Amazon package. It drives to my house and the app notifies me that it has arrived. I'm off running an errand, or I'm working from home but in a meeting. Does the Nuro-bot:
  • Sit waiting indefinitely until I finally get home and unload the package?
  • Time-out after a brief wait and return to base, where the package is unloaded and replaced with another, then after delivering other packages re-try mine?
Neither is an efficient use of capital-intensive resources. What am I missing here?

1 comment:

David. said...

Ron Amadeo reports that Waymo and Uber Eats start human-less food deliveries in Phoenix:

"Automated Uber Eats is rolling out to Waymo's Phoenix service area. Waymo says this will start in "select merchants in Chandler, Tempe and Mesa, including local favorites like Princess Pita, Filiberto's, and Bosa Donuts."

Phoenix Uber Eats customers can fire up the app and order some food, and they might see the message “autonomous vehicles may deliver your order.” Waymo says you'll be able to opt out of robot delivery at checkout if you want.

Of course, the big difference between human and robot food delivery is that the human driver will take your food door to door, while for the Waymo option, you'll need to run outside and flag down your robot delivery vehicle when it arrives. ... Waymo doesn't explain how the restaurant side of things will work, but inevitably, some poor food server will need to run outside when the Waymo arrives.

It seems pretty wasteful to have a 2-ton, crash-tested vehicle designed to seat five humans delivering a small bag of food, but at least the Jaguar i-Pace Waymos are all-electric."

"Pretty wasteful" seems about right - I can't see how the economics work out.