Once upon a time the idea of robots was a distant thought, a science fiction concept confined to the movies. However today robots are an extreme reality. They are now commonplace in manufacturing and are featuring more and more predominantly in the logistics industry, mainly due to the high demands e-commerce is now placing on the industry.
So, how effective are these Robots and can they actually take over from a reactive, rational, logical thinking human being?
The government has recently partnered with Amazon to trial delivery by drone. Amazon is funding the programme which will potentially see hundreds of robotic aircraft whizzing around Britain’s skies. However, already this raises three big problems;
- How to you operate drones beyond the line of sight. Currently rules state a pilot must be able to see its aircraft at all times.
- Building a drone that can sense objects and safely maneuver around them, but can sensors predict every circumstance?
- How can a system be created where one pilot can be responsible for many drones?
Starship, which was launched by the former co-founders of Skype, is also trialing its robots in the UK – starting in Greenwich, and plan to launch their pilot delivery services later this year.
The robots use pavements like pedestrians, travelling at slow speeds and with zero emissions. The robots drive autonomously most of the time but are monitored by human remote controllers who can take over the control at any time. Typically, one person would monitor around 100 of these robots. However, the company needs to demonstrate that these robots can be used alongside pedestrians safely and without causing inconvenience. Once again there are several issues with this concept; London pavements are already congested, what about extreme weather conditions and theft of the robot or delivery is a very real concern.
Not only do these practical reasons need solving but it also raises issues and concerns for privacy and safety of the British public. Already tragedy has struck with a fatal accident occurring whilst Tesla’s autopilot technology was engaged and technology experts have warned for some time that self-driving systems are far from perfect.
As Noel Sharkey, a professor from Sheffield University and robotic expert, states “All information is steal-able and all drones hackable. Anybody could steal one to deliver drugs or bombs.”
A very somber thought during these unstable times. We firmly believe that logistics are best managed by real people in real time.