19 June 20246 minute read

The Impact of Self-Driving Cars on Delivery

self driving cars

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Autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars, are a big step forward in how we think about travel and moving goods around. 

These cars use high-tech tools like sensors, cameras, and artificial intelligence (AI) to drive themselves. They can figure out where they are, what’s happening around them, and make their own driving choices.

They work using complex algorithms and technology, including lidar and machine learning. This means they can understand their surroundings and drive safely with little or no help from humans.

The delivery business is starting to use autonomous cars to work better and solve problems, like not having enough drivers and dealing with traffic jams. 

In this article, we’ll talk about how these driverless cars are changing the way deliveries work. We’ll look at the good points, the challenges, and what this might mean for the future of delivery in America.

Key takeaways

  • The delivery sector currently struggles with high labor costs, driver shortages, and inefficiencies in last-mile delivery.
  • Autonomous vehicles could enhance safety, scalability, and environmental sustainability in delivery services.
  • Self-driving cars with advanced AI and sensors promise more efficient and cost-effective delivery operations.
  • Self-driving cars face technological, regulatory, and safety challenges, with ethical and social implications for future integration.
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Current challenges in the delivery sector

The delivery sector, a crucial part of commerce, faces several challenges, including: 

  • High labor costs and driver shortages. It can be costly to hire and keep drivers, especially with a general shortage in the workforce. This means finding people willing to do the job is getting tougher and more expensive.
  • Traffic congestion and delivery delays. Traffic jams are a major obstacle for timely deliveries. It leads to delays, disrupts delivery schedules, and results in customer dissatisfaction due to extended waiting times for their packages
  • Safety concerns and accidents. The pressure to deliver quickly can lead to accidents. Rushing through busy streets isn’t just risky for drivers but also for everyone around.
  • Inefficiencies in the last-mile delivery process. The last part of the delivery, getting packages to doorsteps, is often the most inefficient. It involves navigating through busy streets, finding parking, and sometimes waiting for customers — all of which eat up time and fuel.

The rise of self-driving cars

Self-driving technology has made huge strides in recent years. In fact, the market for autonomous vehicles could be worth over $93 billion USD by 2028.

This technology is all about vehicles that are kitted out with sensors, cameras, and smart algorithms, enabling them to drive on roads by themselves. 

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has defined six levels of automation for these vehicles. They range from Level 0, which has no automation, to Level 3 of some automation, and up to Level 5, where the vehicles are fully autonomous.

Big names in this area include Tesla’s Autopilot system, Waymo’s driverless ride-sharing vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona, and Uber’s experiments with self-driving cars

Even traditional car manufacturers are experimenting with automated driving. Audi has developed four concept cars for autonomous driving, while Mercedes-Benz was the first to get government approval for a Level 3 driving feature. And Volvo is debuting its Ride Pilot system in its electric vehicle, the EX90, with Level 3 automation.

While we’re still in the early days of using these vehicles, it’s clear that they’re starting to change the way we think about transportation and delivery services for the future.

How autonomous vehicles work 

Autonomous vehicles use a combination of technologies. They’re equipped with sensors and cameras that give a 360-degree view of their surroundings. 

These sensors, along with lidar, detect objects like stop signs and traffic lights, other vehicles, and road conditions. The onboard AI and machine learning systems process this data, allowing the vehicle to make real-time decisions.

The driving system of an autonomous car handles various tasks like steering, accelerating, and braking. In higher levels of automation, like Level 5, the vehicle operates without the need for a steering wheel, pedals, or a human driver. 

Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capabilities, as well as Waymo’s and Uber’s autonomous technologies, are examples of this advanced system.

These vehicles also use algorithms for lane departure warning, lane centering, and adaptive cruise control, enhancing their ability to navigate through complex roadways and traffic conditions. 

Connectivity also plays a big role in creating constant communication with other vehicles and infrastructure, which is important for real-time traffic information.

How self-driving cars can benefit delivery

how self driving cars benefit delivery

Self-driving cars have the potential to impact the delivery industry in several ways, including:

  • Increased efficiency. Driverless cars can potentially run nonstop, making deliveries faster and more efficient. This is especially good for businesses that need to keep up with customer demands around the clock.
  • Cost savings. Not needing human drivers means cutting down on expenses like salaries, benefits, and insurance. Plus, self-driving cars can save fuel because they drive in a more efficient way.
  • Improved safety. Equipped with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), automated vehicles should ideally minimize the risk of accidents. Autonomous technologies like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane centering allow these vehicles to sense their environment and react quickly.
  • Last-mile delivery. Self-driving delivery vehicles can handle the challenging last mile of delivery, which is often the most time-consuming and costly part of the process. This can result in quicker and cheaper deliveries.
  • Scalability. Companies can scale their delivery operations with self-driving cars since they don’t require the hiring and training of additional human drivers.
  • Reduced emissions. These vehicles can be programmed to drive in an efficient way that’s better for the environment, helping to cut down on pollution.
  • Increased accessibility. People with disabilities or those living in hard-to-reach places could find it easier to get deliveries with these vehicles.
  • Data analytics. Self-driving cars can gather useful data about delivery routes, traffic, and what customers want. This information can help companies make their delivery systems better and improve customer service.

Challenges of self-driving cars for delivery

challenges of self driving delivery cars

While self-driving cars hold a lot of promise for delivery, there are significant hurdles to overcome before they can be widely used, including:

Technological limitations

Self-driving technology isn’t yet fully capable of handling the complexity of real-world driving scenarios. This includes responding to unpredictable human actions and navigating through varying weather conditions. 

While car manufacturers like General Motors promised mass production of fully autonomous electric cars by 2019 back in 2017, that hasn’t come to pass. 

Regulatory and legal issues

The legal landscape for self-driving vehicles is still developing, with varying regulations across states. 

For instance, California allows fully autonomous vehicles on public roads by authorized individuals even for noncommercial use. However, some states like Louisiana only allow autonomous vehicles to be used for commercial purposes

This patchwork of laws makes it complicated to use these vehicles across the country.

Safety concerns

The safety of autonomous vehicles and their cargo is critical, especially in emergency situations or potential system failures.

In October 2023, Cruise, an autonomous vehicle company, paused its robotaxi service in all markets after one of its driverless cars struck a pedestrian in downtown San Francisco.

Cybersecurity risks

Since self-driving cars depend on software and internet connectivity, they’re at risk of being hacked, which could endanger both the vehicle and its cargo. 

It’s crucial to have strong cybersecurity and constant monitoring to guard against these threats.

Predictions and implications

As we look ahead, the role of self-driving cars in delivery has some intriguing prospects and significant impacts to consider:

  • Self-driving cars in delivery. Expect to see more businesses experimenting with and adopting this technology, potentially leading to faster, more efficient delivery services. The rise in self-driving delivery vehicles could reshape how consumers get everything from groceries to online shopping orders.
  • Logistics and supply chains. Self-driving cars could transform how goods move around. We could see more streamlined logistics and supply chain processes with greater accuracy in delivery times and reduced operational costs. This technology might lead to a more connected and efficient system of moving goods from warehouses right to customers’ doorsteps.
  • Combining with other technologies. There’s potential for self-driving cars to integrate with other emerging technologies like AI and blockchain. AI could enhance route planning and decision-making, while blockchain might offer secure, transparent tracking of goods. These integrations could lead to smarter, safer, and more reliable delivery services.
  • Ethical and social considerations. As this technology evolves, developers will need to think about its ethical and social impacts. Questions around privacy, data security, and the moral decisions made by AI systems in driving scenarios will become crucial. It’s important to consider how these changes affect not just businesses, but society as a whole, including issues like accessibility and environmental impact.

Get optimized routes now with Circuit for Teams

While the promise of self-driving cars for deliveries is on the horizon, it’s important to remember that this technology isn’t widely available yet. Businesses wanting efficient delivery solutions today need practical, immediate tools. 

That’s where Circuit for Teams steps in, offering an innovative solution for optimizing delivery routes right now. We understand the current challenges of delivery logistics and give a smart, user-friendly way to manage and streamline delivery processes.

Key features of Circuit for Teams that align with the needs of modern delivery operations include dynamic route optimization, real-time tracking, and proof of delivery. 

And with delivery time estimates and efficient routing, Circuit for Teams helps in delivering a better customer experience.

Start optimizing your delivery routes today and experience the future of efficient logistics. Sign up for Circuit for Teams.

About the author

Heather Reinblatt
Heather ReinblattContributor

Heather Reinblatt is a managing editor currently living in St. Louis, Missouri. She spends her free time reading, trying new recipes, and cuddling her cat Paisley. You can find Heather on LinkedIn.


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Logistics map interface showing the New York afternoon delivery run with route lines and list of addresses