Freaked out by the idea of delivery drones flying overhead? Something scarier could be on the way.
On Tuesday, Google got the nod from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for an “autonomous delivery platform,” or, in simple terms, a self-driving delivery truck. Apparently the search engine giant has been working on the idea for at least three years.
According to the patent, filed in July 2013, a fleet of driverless delivery trucks featuring several secure storage compartments, each outfitted with PIN- or payment card-activated faceplates and capable of holding at least one package each, could be just what e-tailers need as the demand for last-mile delivery services continues to increase.
However, the filing doesn’t say much about how these trucks will actually drive themselves, save for the following: “Automated road vehicles can use various sensors, for example, video cameras, radar sensors and laser range finders, to ‘see’ other traffic, as well as detailed maps to navigate a road, and a communication subsystem, such as a wireless communication subsystem, to communicate with a controller and other entities.”
The patent pointed out that the technology could also be used by cargo vans, minivans, pickup trucks, panel vans, platform trucks, flatbed trucks, refrigerated trucks, tank trucks and semi-trailer trucks and cars.
It’s been a big month for Google. Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told the Alphabet Inc. unit that computers can qualify as drivers.
“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system) and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” the agency said in a letter.
Aside from the fact that this phenomenon could offer consumers the convenience of a wider delivery window, it could also potentially cut a lot of logistics jobs. The patent noted that in 2013 UPS and FedEx operated more than 100,000 last-mile (or local delivery) vehicles in the U.S., each of which required a human operator. That number has likely gone up since then.
Online behemoth Amazon also appears to have it out for the country’s two largest commercial delivery services. Late last year, the company announced plans to deploy thousands of branded trailer trucks throughout North America in an effort to gets its goods into customers’ hands quicker.