The Postal Service is exploring the possibility of using self-driving vehicles for its mail delivery according to a recent Postal Service Office of Inspector General report.
According to the report, the Postal Service is building a prototype of a self-driving vehicle in partnership with the University of Michigan. The vehicle would be tested on rural routes and used for a scenario in which the vehicle drives the mail carrier.
According to the report, the vehicle would handle most of the driving while the carrier would take over when needed (assuming the vehicle is not fully autonomous which is how the prototype is currently envisioned), and it would enable the carrier to perform additional tasks that normally could not be done when having to drive, such as filling out a “sorry we missed you” slip or gathering packages for a delivery prior to arriving at an address.
Assuming tests are successful, the Postal Service hopes to deploy the vehicle on 28,000 rural routes by 2025.
Other Use Cases
The report identified other potential use cases for self-driving vehicles over the long term if and when the technology improves and adapts to each scenario. Besides driving the letter carrier, these are other possibilities, however, none are currently under development by the Postal Service:
The vehicle would park itself as the carrier makes deliveries, eliminating the need to look for parking spots while ensuring the vehicle is out of the way of traffic.
Following the carrier
For walking routes, the vehicle would follow the carrier, reducing walking time to and from the vehicle as well as the heavy loads the carrier has to carry.
Picking up more mail from the post office
When mail from the sorting facility is late or there are too many packages to fit in the vehicle, an autonomous vehicle can be dispatched to bring the items from the post office to the carrier on his route, saving return trips.
Mobile parcel locker
A complete departure from current delivery methods, a fully autonomous mobile locker would remove the carrier from the operation. It would come to the customer when convenient, allowing 24/7, on-demand delivery.