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Delivery AVs and bots could pick up data, too

Front view with digital face of Kiwi self driving autonomous package delivery robot parked in Berkeley, California
A Kiwi self driving autonomous package delivery robot parked in Berkeley, California. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

CA DMV's comment period for light-duty delivery AVs ends on May 27th and could usher in a slew of delivery AVs on roads in the state.

Why it matters: Smaller AVs and bots could cover last-mile and even last-meter delivery and possibly reduce the cost of delivering individual packages down to 4 to 7 cents. But the tech's biggest draw is the data it could collect on customer behavior by location.

What’s happening: Companies are experimenting with different delivery bots for different purposes.

  • Last-mile delivery vehicles, roughly the size of passenger cars, travel on public roads, and would generally require customers to go to the curb to pick up deliveries from the vehicle. AV developer Nuro and Kroger, the giant grocery chain, are among those partnering to deliver goods this way.
  • Last-meter delivery bots, which are smaller, can travel on sidewalks and deliver packages door to door. These are being deployed in pilot tests including Postmates' Serve, in Los Angeles, and Amazon's Scout in Seattle.

Yes, but: These delivery systems could collect far more data about a customer's location and residence than, say, Amazon's locker delivery program. And they're designed to make delivery cheaper and more appealing, which could result in customers ordering more purchases via delivery, giving companies even more data about their buying habits.

  • Armed with such data, retailers could, for instance, limit investment in neighborhoods where households spend less than average on groceries, potentially creating food deserts in less affluent areas.

What we are watching: San Francisco, a major early testing ground for small, sidewalk-bound delivery bots banned them on most streets due to a public outcry that they obstruct sidewalks, and has created a permit process for limited testing.

  • It remains to be seen if customers will put up with increasing data collection and possible road congestion, and even sidewalk congestion, for convenience.

Sudha Jamthe is director of DriverlessWorldSchool and teaches AV Business at Stanford Continuing Studies.

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to reflect that the California DMV's proposed regulations address only autonomous delivery vehicles under 10,001 pounds that will use public roads (not sidewalk delivery bots).