When the nightly news tackles a topic like self-driving cars, almost invariably it is brought up as a battle between computers and Uber drivers. Perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction, as taxi services are what the average person thinks of when they interact with a “professional driver” in their day to day life.

 

What is Being Tested

In reality, the truth is that many more companies are starting to look into those more invisible aspects of the vehicle economy. Along with public transportation, freight, especially, has come to the forefront of the discussion. And intellectually, the advantages are obvious. Automated freight doesn’t adhere to sleep schedules, it can be directed around the slowest traffic hours, generally overnight, to minimize risks. And in the event of accidents, the worst thing harmed in a 3 a.m. spillover will be boxes and not a passenger.

Automated big-rigs are already being tested. The moment they demonstrate an ability to earn a profit, it would be strange to think every company that uses freight won’t be crunching numbers to see how much it would save them.

It is one of the challenges the “shop at home economy” brings. With online sales only ever going up, the more traditional brick and mortar stores have already had to meet the challenge. Only last month Wal-Mart consolidated its furniture department to be more online shopping friendly.

Addressing the Problems

There is definitely a problem of service to address when we leave the realm of big-rigs and approach the final leg of the delivery: from the final office to the home. Amazon bypasses this by hiring out UPS and the USPS to handle small packages. But what of the big items? How would Wal-Mart deliver a bedroom set, hypothetically, with a robot driver under its new website? The proposals are varied, but tend to look like this: The customer sets a preset time window of availability, and when the delivery car is ready, a text is sent to the customer who can then take their items from the vehicle. This will require some specialized framework, of course, a system in place with lockers and passcodes to make sure only the correct items can be withdrawn at a time.

It feels strange, but that system is not all too far away. After all, if your vehicle only needs to fit on the road, it won’t require the bulk of seats or trunk space as we tend to think of them now. And there are companies across the world designing vehicles specifically to be self-driven for this reason.

The Concern of Safety

All of these discussions, of course, hinge on one issue; the issue of safety. Many argue that driverless cars will create even safer roads. In the long run, this could also lower costs for business owners in the long run such as having the options of having cheap auto insurance quotes and new technologies that are focused on reducing costs and creating more seamless processes.

One of the goals of self-driving vehicles, however, isn’t to be 100% safe. The goal is simply to be safer than humans. And by all accounts, they are. They have been for years. If a robot driver were to have a chance of an accident at 0.5% in the next five years, versus a human at 1.5%? Maybe even higher than that? If we set the driving record of a robot against that of a person, and the robot turned up safer, less of a risk? These are almost foregone conclusions of the next few years.

With these innovations, there are even some predictions that startups may want to invest in distribution. Having a company vehicle may be as crucial to starting your own business as a website in years to come. The self-driving cars are coming, and they’re closer than you probably believed.