‘Autonomous last mile’ is coming and society needs to prepare

We humans have always been held back only by the limits of our imaginations. And this is a good thing. Yet historically, we have tended to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, spit out the seeds, and think little of what might grow where they land.

The adoption of technology is an excellent example. Since the industrial revolution, technology has been enthusiastically invented, produced, embraced, and widely adopted… while the societal impact was considered only ex post facto, if at all.

Is the age of autonomous last mile everything a repeat performance?

What’s the Autonomous Last Mile?

In this context, I use “the last mile” to refer to the final step in a physical item’s journey from supplier to consumer. Think of your Amazon order moving from a local distribution center to your front door, or your sushi order making the short trip from restaurant to your kitchen table.

In connected societies, how these billions of items get from point A to point B is the subject of a massive investment in  autonomization. “Autonomous last mile everything” refers to vehicles that will pick us up and drop us off, autonomous robots that already deliver for FedEx and drones that whisk our pharmaceuticals or our lunches to our doorsteps minutes after we place an order.

The upside of this revolution is clear. Especially in increasingly smartified (yes, that’s a word) urban areas, everyday freight and logistics tend to be wildly inefficient. Think of multiple FedEx/UPS trucks that visit the same office buildings multiple times during a given day, or multiple Domino’s Pizza couriers who zip back and forth repeatedly to the same residential street. The potential economic, ecological, and financial upside of autonomization is astounding on a local scale — and mind-boggling on a global scale.

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