Boxes-on-Wheels and AI Self-Driving Cars

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By Lance Eliot, the AI Trends Insider

Watch out, the rolling boxes are on their way. Many call them a box-on-wheels. That’s referring to the use of AI self-driving car technology to have a vehicle that would be driverless and would deliver goods to you or more.

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Lab, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars, and are also including into our scope the use of AI systems for boxes-on-wheels. I offer next some salient aspects about the emerging niche of boxes-on-wheels.

For my framework on AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/framework-ai-self-driving-driverless-cars-big-picture/

Some falsely believe autonomous shuttles are the same as box-on-wheels designs, not so, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/brainless-self-driving-shuttles-not-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the grand convergence that’s leading to these AI autonomously driven vehicles, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/grand-convergence-explains-rise-self-driving-cars/

Let’s start with a typical use case for a box-on-wheels.

You could potentially order your groceries online from your neighborhood grocer, and a little while later those groceries pull-up in front of your house as contained in a so-called box-on-wheels. You walk outside to the vehicle, enter a special PIN code or some other form of recognition, and inside are your groceries. You happily carry the grocery bags up to your apartment or house and do so without ever having to drive your car. The vehicle drives off to deliver groceries to others that have also made recent orders from that grocery store.

Notice that I mentioned that this is considered a use of AI self-driving car technology. It is not the same as what most people think of as an AI self-driving car per se. I say that because the vehicle itself does not necessarily need to look like a passenger car. A box-on-wheels can be a different shape and size than a normal passenger car, since it is not intending to carry humans.  It is intended to carry goods.

If you ponder this aspect of carrying goods, you’d likely realize that it would be best to design the vehicle in a manner intended to carry goods rather than carrying humans.

Consider first what it’s like to carry goods inside a passenger car. I’m sure you’ve tried to pile your own grocery bags into the backseat of your car or maybe on the floor just ahead of the passenger front seat. The odds are that at some point you had those bags flop over and spill their contents. If you made a quick stop by hitting the brakes of the car, it could be that you’ve had groceries that littered throughout your car and maybe had broken glass from a smashed milk bottle as a result. Not good.

Don’t blame it on the passenger car! The passenger car is considered optimized to carry people. There are seats for people. There are armrests for people. There are areas for people to put their feet. All in all, the typical passenger car is not particularly suited to carry goods. Sure, you might place the goods into your trunk or maybe some other baggage carrying spaces of the car, but then you’d be unable to use the passenger seats in any sensible way to carry goods. Nope, don’t try to make a hammer into a screwdriver. If you need a hammer, get yourself a hammer. If you need a screwdriver, get yourself a screwdriver.

Thus, I think you can understand the great value and importance of developing a vehicle optimized for carrying goods, of which it is not bound to the design of a passenger carrying car. There are a wide variety of these designs all vying to see which will be the best, or at least become more enduring, as to meeting the needs of delivering goods. Some of these vehicles are the same size as a passenger car. Some of these vehicles are much smaller than a passenger car, of which, some of those are envisioned to go on sidewalks rather than solely on the streets.

The ones that go on the sidewalks need to especially be honed to cope with pedestrians and other aspects of driving on a sidewalk, plus there often is the need to get regulatory approval in a particular area to allow a motorized vehicle to go on sidewalks. Having such a vehicle on a sidewalk can be a dicey proposition. If you are wondering why even try, the notion is that it can more readily get to harder to reach places due to its smaller size and overall footprint, and in neighborhoods where they restrict the use of full sized cars it could potentially do the delivery (such as retirement communities), even perhaps right up to the door of someone’s adobe.

Some designers are going to the opposite extreme and considering boxes-on-wheels that are the size of a limo or larger. The logic is that you could store even more groceries or other goods in one that is larger in size. This could cut down on the number of trips needed to deliver some N number of goods to Y number of delivery spots. Suppose a “conventional” box-on-wheels allowed for up to 6 distinct deliveries, while the limo version could do say twelve. The box-on-wheels for the six distinct deliveries would need to come all the way back to the grocery store to fill-up the next set of six, meanwhile the limo version would have gotten all twelve put into it at the start of its journey and would be more efficient to deliver them without having to come back mid-way of the twelve.

The downside of the limo sized box-on-wheels is whether it can readily navigate the roads needed to do its delivery journey. With a larger size, it might not be able to make some tight corners or other narrow passages to reach the intended recipient of the goods. There’s a trade-off between the size of the box-on-wheels and where it can potentially go.

Indeed, let’s be clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. There are arguments about which of the sizes will win out in the end of this evolving tryout of varying sizes and shapes of boxes-on-wheels. I am doubtful there will be only one “right size and shape” that will accommodate the myriad of needs for a boxes-on-wheels. Just as today we have varying sizes of cars and trucks, the same is likely to be true for the boxes-on-wheels.

For my article about safety aspects of AI self-driving vehicles, see: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/safety-and-ai-self-driving-cars-world-safety-summit-on-autonomous-tech/

For various AI self-driving vehicle design aspects, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/reverse-engineering-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the myth of these vehicles becoming economic commodities, see my myth busting article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/economic-commodity-debate-the-case-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

Box on Wheels Free-for-All Today

That doesn’t though suggest that all of the variants being tried today will survive. I’m sure that many of the designs of today will either morph and be revised based on what seems to function well in the real-world, or some designs will be dropped entirely, or other new designs will emerge once we see what seems to work and what does not work. It’s a free-for-all right now. Large sized, mid-sized, small-sized, along with doors that open upward, downward, or swing to the side, and some with windows and others without windows, etc.

Let’s consider an example of a variant being tried out today. Kroger, a major grocer, has teamed up with Nuro, an AI self-driving vehicle company, for the development of and testing of delivery vehicles that would carry groceries. The squat looking vehicle has various separated compartments to put groceries into. There are special doors that can be opened to then allow humans to access the compartments, presumably for the purposes of putting in groceries at the grocery store and then taking out the groceries when the vehicle reaches the consumer that bought the groceries.

This kind of design makes a lot of sense for the stated purpose of transporting groceries. You want to have separated compartments so that you could accommodate multiple separate orders. Maybe you ordered some groceries, and Sam that lives two blocks away also ordered groceries. Naturally, you’d not want Sam to mess around with your groceries, and likewise you shouldn’t mess around with Sam’s groceries. Imagine if you could indeed access other people’s groceries – it could be a nightmare of accidentally taking the wrong items (intended for someone else), or accidentally crushing someone else’s items (oops, flattened that loaf of bread), and maybe intentionally doing so (you’ve never liked Sam, so you make sure all the eggs he ordered are smashed).

There has to be also be some relatively easy way to access the compartments. Having a lockable door would be essential. The door has to swing or hinge in a manner that it would be simple to deal with and allow you access to the compartment readily and fully. You of course don’t want humans to get confused trying to open or close the doors. You don’t want humans to hurt themselves when opening or closing a door. The locking mechanism has to allow for an easy means of identifying the person that is rightfully going to open the door. And so on.

The locking mechanism might involve you entering a PIN code to open the door. The PIN would have been perhaps provided to you when you placed your grocery order. Or, it might be that your smartphone can activate and unlock the compartment door, using NFC or other kinds of ways to convey a special code to the box-on-wheels. It could even be facial recognition or via your eye or fingerprint recognition, though this means that only you can open the door. I say this because you might be unable to physically get to the box-on-wheels and instead have someone else aiding you, maybe you are bedridden with some ailment and have an aid in your home, and so if the lock only responds to you it would limit your allowing someone else to open it instead (possibly, you could instruct the lock via online means as to how you want it to respond).

I mention these aspects because the conventional notion is that the box-on-wheels will most likely be unattended by a human.

If you had a human attendant that was inside the vehicle, they could presumably get out of the vehicle when it reaches your home, they could open the door to the compartment that contains your groceries, and they might either hand it to you or walk it up to your door. But, if the vehicle is unattended by a human, this means that the everyday person receiving the delivery is going to have to figure out how to open the compartment door, take out the groceries, and then close the compartment door.

This seems like a simple task, but do not underestimate the ability of humans to get confused at tasks that might seem simple on the surface, and also be sympathetic towards those that might have more limited physical capabilities and cannot readily perform those physical tasks. Presumably, the compartment doors will have an automated way to open and close, rather than you needing to physically push open and push closed the compartment doors (though, not all designs are using an automated door open/close scheme).

This does bring up some facets about these boxes on wheels that you need to consider.

First, there’s the aspect of having a human on-board versus not having a human on-board:

  •         Human attendant
  •         No human attendant

I’ve carefully phrased this to say human attendant. We don’t need to have a human driver in these vehicles since the AI is supposed to be doing the driving. This though does not imply that the vehicle has to be empty of a human being in it. You might want to have a human attendant in the vehicle. The human attendant would not need to know how to drive. Indeed, even if they knew how to drive, the vehicle would most likely have no provision for a human to drive it (there’d not be any pedals or steering wheel).

Why have a human attendant, you might ask? Aren’t we trying to take the human out of the equation by using the AI self-driving car technology? Well, you might want to have a human attendant for the purposes of attending to the vehicle when needed. For example, suppose the grocery carrying vehicle comes up to my house and parks at the curb in front of my house. Darned if I broke my leg in a skiing incident a few weeks ago and I cannot make my way out to the curb. Even if I could hobble to the curb, I certainly couldn’t carry the grocery bags back into the house and hobble at the same time.

The friendly attendant instead leaps out of the vehicle when it reaches my curb. They come up to my door, ring the doorbell, and provide me with my grocery bags. I’m so happy that I got my groceries brought to my door and did not have to hassle going out to the vehicle. This could be true too if you were in your pajamas or maybe drunken from that wild party taking place in your home. The “last mile” of having a vehicle pull-up to your curb, or perhaps park in your driveway, or wherever, the AI self-driving car system isn’t going to bridge that gap. Having a human attendant would.

Think too that the human attendant does not need to know how to drive a car and doesn’t need a driver’s license. Therefore, the skill set of the human attendant is quite a bit less than if you had to hire a driver. Also, the AI is doing the driving and so you don’t need to worry about whether the human attendant got enough sleep last night to properly drive the box-on-wheels. Essentially, this human attendant is the equivalent of the “box boy” (or “box girl”) that boxes up your groceries in the store (well, that’s in stores that still do so).

Having a human attendant can be a handy “customer service” aspect. They can aid those getting a delivery, they can serve to showcase the humanness of the grocer, they can answer potential questions that the human recipient might have about the delivery, and so on. The downside is that by including the human attendant, you are adding cost to the delivery process, and you’ll also need to deal with the whole aspect of hiring (and firing) of the attendants. It could make deliveries a positive thing to have a human attendant, but it can also be a negative. If the human attendant is surly to the person receiving the goods, the humanness of things could backfire on the grocery store.

Some say that the box-on-wheels should have a provision to include a human attendant, but then it would be up to the grocer to decide when to use human attendants or not. In other words, if the vehicle has no provision for a human attendant to ride on-board, the grocer then has no viable option to have the human attendant go along on the delivery. If you have the provision, you can then decide whether to deploy the human attendant or not, perhaps offering during certain hours of the day the human attendant goes along and at other times does not. Or, maybe that for an added fee, your grocery delivery will include an attendant and otherwise not.

So, why not go ahead and include a space in the box-on-wheels to accommodate a human attendant? We’re back to the question of how to best design the vehicle. If you need to include an area of the vehicle that accommodates a human attendant, you then are sacrificing some of the space that could otherwise be used for the storing of the groceries. You also need to consider what must the requirements of this space consist of. For example, should it be at the front of the vehicle, akin to if the human was in the driver’s seat, or can it be in the back of someplace else. You would likely need to have a window for the person to see out of. There are various environmental conditions that the vehicle design would need to incorporate for the needs of a human.

For future job roles as a result of the advent of AI self-driving vehicles, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/future-jobs-and-ai-self-driving-cars/

For my article on how Gen Z is going to shape the timeline of the advent of AI self-driving vehicles, see: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/gen-z-and-the-fate-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the potential of pranking AI self-driving vehicles, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/pranking-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

For my article about the public shaming of AI self-driving vehicles, see: https://www.aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/public-shaming-of-ai-systems-the-case-of-ai-self-driving-cars/

This brings up another aspect about the box-on-wheels design, namely whether it can potentially do driving in a manner that would be beyond what a human would normally do. Assuming that the groceries are well secured and packaged into the compartments, the box-on-wheels could make sharp turns and brake suddenly, if it wanted or needed to do so. If there’s a human attendant on-board, those kinds of rapid maneuvers could harm the human, including perhaps some kind of whiplash or other injuries.

Also, if the box-on-wheels somehow crashes or gets into an accident, if you have a human attendant on-board there needs to be protective mechanisms for them such as air bags and seat belts, while otherwise the only danger is to the groceries. I think we’d all agree that some bumped or smashed groceries is not of much concern, while a human attendant getting injured or maybe killed is a serious matter. Thus, another reason to not have a human attendant involves the risks of injury or death to the human, which if you are simply doing grocery delivery is adding a lot of risk to the attendant and to the grocer.

Let’s shift attention now to the nature of the compartments that will be housing the goods.

Grocery Bags in Compartmetns of the Box-on-Wheels

For the delivery of groceries, it is so far assumed that the groceries will be placed into grocery bags and that in turn those grocery bags will be placed into the compartment of the box-on-wheels. This convention of our using grocery bags goes back many years (some say that the Deubner Shopping Bag invented in 1912 was the first modernized version) and seems to be a suitable way to allow humans to cart around their groceries (rather than perhaps cardboard boxes or other such containers).

The grocery bags are quite handy in that they are something we all accept as a means of grouping together our groceries. It has a familiar look to it. Assuming that the grocery bag has some kind of straps, the manner in which you carry the grocery bag allows you to either carry it by the straps or you can carry the whole bag by picking it up from the bottom or grasping the bag in a bear hug.  In that sense, the grocery bag is a simple way allowing for multiple options as to how to carry it. This is mainly important for purposes of the human recipient and how they are to remove their groceries and then transport them into their adobe.

For the moment, assume that the grocery store will indeed use a grocery bag for these purposes. You would want the grocery bag to be sturdy and not readily tear or fall apart – imagine if the box-on-wheels has no human attendant, arrives at the destination, and the human recipient pulls out their bag of groceries and it rips apart and all of their tangerines and other goods spill to the ground. The human recipient will be irked and likely not to order from that grocer again. Therefore, the odds are that the grocery bag being used for this purpose has to be as sturdy if not even more sturdy than getting a simple plastic bag or brown bag at your local grocery store.

The odds are that the grocery store will use some kind of special cloth bag or equivalent which is durable and can safely hold the groceries and be transported. Likely the grocery store would brand the bags so that it is apparent they came from the XYZ grocery store. The twist to all of this is the cost of those bags and also what happens to them. The cost is likely high enough that it adds to the cost of the delivery overall. Also, if every time you receive a delivery you get and presumably keep the bags, it means that the grocer is going to be handing out a lot of these bags over time. Suppose I get about four bags of groceries every week, and I keep the bags, thus by the end of a year I’ve accumulated around 200 of these grocery bags! That’s a lot of grocery bags.

You might say that the human recipient should put the grocery bags back into the box-on-wheels after emptying the grocery bags of their goods.

That’s a keen idea. But, you probably don’t want the box-on-wheels to be sitting at the curb while the human recipient goes into their home, takes the groceries about of the bags, and then comes out to the box-on-wheels to place the empty grocery bags into it. This would be a huge delay to the box-on-wheels moving onward to deliver goods to the next person. So, this notion of the empty bag return would more likely need to be done when the human recipient gets their groceries, in that perhaps they might have leftover empty bags from a prior delivery and place those into the compartment when they remove their latest set of groceries. Then, when the box-on-wheels gets back to the grocery store, a clerk there would take out the empty grocery bags and perhaps credit the person with having returned them.

This shifts our attention then to another important facet of the box-on-wheels, namely the use of the compartments.

We’ve concentrated so far herein on the approach of delivering goods to someone. That’s a one-way view of things. The one-way that we’ve assumed in this discussion is that the grocery store is delivering something to the person that ordered the groceries. The human recipient removes their groceries from the compartment and the compartment then remains empty the rest of the journey of the box-on-wheels for the deliveries it is making in this round.

Suppose though that the compartments were to be used for taking something from the person that received delivery goods. Or, maybe the compartment never had anything in it at all and arrived at the person’s home to pick-up something. The pick-up might be intended to then be delivered to the grocery store. Or, it could be that the pick-up is then delivered to someone else, like say Sam. As mentioned earlier, Sam lives some blocks away from you, and perhaps you have no easy means to send over something to him, and thus you use the grocery store box-on-wheels to do so.

The possibilities seem endless. They also raise concerns. Do you really want people to put things into the compartments of the box-on-wheels? Suppose someone puts into a compartment a super stinky pair of old shoes, and it is so pungent that it mars the rest of the groceries in the other compartments? Or, suppose someone puts a can of paint in the compartment, fails to secure the lid of the paint can, and while the box-on-wheels continues its journey the paint spills all over the inside of the compartment. As you can see, allowing the recipient to put something into the compartment will be fraught with issues.

Some grocers are indicating that the recipients will not be allowed to put anything into the compartments. This is perhaps the safest rule, but it also opens the question of how to enforce it. A person might put something into a compartment anyway. They might try to trick the system into carrying something for them. Ways to try and prevent this include the use of sensors in the compartment to try and detect whether anything is in the compartment, such as by weight or by movement.

This does bring up an even more serious concern. There are some that are worried that these human unattended box-on-wheels could become a kind of joy ride for some. Imagine a teenager that “for fun” climbs into the compartment to go along for a ride. Or, maybe a jokester puts a dog into a compartment. Or, worse still, suppose someone puts their baby down into the compartment to lift out the grocery bag, and somehow forgets that they left their baby in the compartment (I know this seems inconceivable, but keep in mind there are a number of hot-car baby deaths each year, which illustrates that people can do these kinds of horrifying absent minded things).

Besides having sensors in the compartments, another possibility involves the use of cameras on the box-on-wheels.

There could be a camera inside each of the compartments, thus allowing for visual inspection of the compartment by someone remotely monitoring the box-on-wheels. You can think of this like the cameras these days that are in state-of-the-art refrigerators. Those cameras point inward into the refrigerator and you can while at work via your smartphone see what’s in your refrigerator (time to buy some groceries when the only thing left is a few cans of beer!).

We can enlarge the idea of using cameras and utilize the cameras on the box-of-wheels that are there for the AI self-driving car aspects. Thus, once the box-on-wheels comes to a stop at the curb, it might be handy to still watch and see what happens after stopping. Presumably, you could see that someone is trying to put a dog into a compartment. The box-on-wheels might be outfitted with speakers and a remote operator could tell the person to not put a dog into the compartment.

The use of remote operators raises added issues to the whole concept of the delivery of the goods. You are now adding labor into the process. How many remote operators do you need? Will you allow them to actually operate the box-on-wheels, or are they solely for purposes of acting like a human attendant? There are costs involved and other facets that make this a somewhat less desirable addition to the process.

On the topic of remote operators, here’s another twist for you. Suppose the box-on-wheels arrives at the destination address. Turns out that the curb is painted red and presumably the box-on-wheels cannot legally stop there. The street is jam packed with parked cars. There is no place to come to a legal stop. What should the AI of the box-on-wheels do?

We all know that a human driver would likely park temporarily at the red curb or might double-park the delivery vehicle. But, do we want the AI to act in an illegal manner? How else though will it solve the problem? You might say it needs to find a legal place to park, but that might be blocks away. You might say that people receiving the delivery will need to arrange for a legal place for the box-on-wheels to stop, but that’s a pretty tall order in terms of having to change the infrastructure of the street parking and dealing with local parking regulations, etc.

For my article about the illegal driving aspects of AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/illegal-driving-self-driving-cars/

For the parking of AI self-driving cars, see my article: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/parallel-parking-mindless-ai-task-self-driving-cars-time-step/

Some believe that with a remote human operator you might be able to deal with this parking issue by having the remote operator decide what to do. The remote operator, using the cameras of the AI self-driving vehicle, might be able to see and discern where to park the box-on-wheels.

Would the remote operator directly control the vehicle? Some say yes, but if that’s the case then the question arises as to whether they need to be licensed to drive and opens another can of worms. Some therefore would say no, and that all the remote operator can do is make suggestions to the AI of where to park (“move over to that space two cars ahead”). This though can be a kind of splitting of hairs, since it might be interpreted that a remote operator giving parking instructions is no different than themselves actually driving the vehicle.

For my article about remote operators of AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/remote-piloting-is-a-self-driving-car-crutch/

Here’s another facet to consider. How long will the box-on-wheels be at a stopped position and allow for the removal of the goods?

From the grocer viewpoint, you would want the stopped time to be the shortest possible. For every minute that the box-on-wheels sits at the curb and is waiting for the delivery to be completed, it is using up time to get to the next destination. Those further along in the delivery cycle are all waiting eagerly (or anxiously) for the box-on-wheels to get to them.

Suppose a person comes out to the box-on-wheels, opens the compartment designated for their delivery, and for whatever reason rummages around in the grocery bag, maybe doing an inspection to make sure the bag contains what they ordered. They decide to then slowly remove the bag and slowly walk up to their home and slowly put the bag inside the home. Meanwhile, they have four other bags yet to go that are sitting in the compartment. They walk out slowly to get the next bag. And so on.

If the system had calculated beforehand that it should take about four minutes to remove the bags by the recipient, it could be that this particular stop takes 20 minutes or even longer. How can you hurry along the recipient? If you had a human attendant, you’d presumably have a better chance of making the deliveries occur on a timelier basis. Without the human attendant, you could possibly use a remote human operator to urge someone to finish removing their bags. The AI system could of course also emit a reminder, having been programmed to be deal with the delivery aspects of the box-on-wheels.

What the AI is Doing for the Box-on-Wheels

This takes us to a crucial part of this discussion, namely what the AI is doing for the box-on-wheels.

The usual aspects of the AI involve the driving of the vehicle. Once the groceries are loaded into the compartments, it is given a “proceed ahead” indication at the grocery store. It then drives the vehicle to each of the destinations. At each destination, it allows for the compartments to be opened and then closed and needs to ascertain when to continue along on the journey. It could be that the closing of the compartment door is the signal that it is Okay to proceed, though as usual the AI needs to be doing some self-checks and looking around to make sure it is safe to proceed.

In our Lab, we are adding to the AI by including the aspects about the delivery aspects, which a normal AI self-driving car has no concern about and no provision for. In essence, the typical AI self-driving car will remain dormant during the time that the box-on-wheels is stopped. All it cares about is when it should start driving again. There is no provision to communicate any further or take any other actions until it is cleared to continue driving.

Ideally, the AI would be aiding the delivery moment. This includes the detection of a human or humans that are coming to the box-on-wheels to pick-up the goods. It includes monitoring as the compartment is opened and the goods are removed. It includes monitoring as the compartment is closed. By using additional sensors on the box-on-wheels that are there for these purposes, it combines the other driving related sensors to then be involved in the delivery moment.

You can also add into this list of tasks the potential arduous parking aspects. Have you had a human driver that came to delivery something and you met them at the curb and told them to go ahead and park up ahead at the corner? I’m sure you have. The AI of the self-driving car can potentially interact with human(s) during the parking stage to help ascertain a place to pull over for the disgorging of the goods.

For more on this overall topic, see my article about AI self-driving cars being used for in-car delivery purposes: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/in-car-deliveries-with-ai-self-driving-cars/

For the NLP interaction of AI self-driving cars with humans, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/car-voice-commands-nlp-self-driving-cars/

For the socio-behavorial interaction aspects, see my article: https://www.aitrends.com/features/socio-behavioral-computing-for-ai-self-driving-cars/

One other aspect about the box-on-wheels involves the kinds of goods that it is intended to carry. If there are frozen food items, you’d presumably want the compartment to be refrigerated so that the frozen items would not melt during the journey. You cannot know for sure the length of time to undertake the deliveries, given the vagaries of traffic and also the vagaries of the time during the delivery moment, and thus you can’t just hope that the food will remain in proper shape during the journey. Using conventional air conditioning might not be enough to keep the food at the proper temperature.

You might be tempted to say that only certain kinds of groceries can be delivered via the box-on-wheels. Yes, you could make that constraint, but you’ve now made for a dilemma for the customer. If I cannot get my frozen fish and frozen pizza from the grocery store, I’ll need to make my own trip there. If I am going to make my own trip there, why futz with the box-on-wheels delivery service?

This also logically takes us to another consideration about boxes-on-wheels. If true AI self-driving cars become prevalent, would I even need to use a box-on-wheels? In other words, if I owned a true AI self-driving car, which is considered a Level 5, I could just tell it to go to the grocery store and pick-up my goods. No need to use the box-on-wheels.

For my article about the levels of AI self-driving cars, see: https://aitrends.com/selfdrivingcars/richter-scale-levels-self-driving-cars/

The counter-arguments are that not everyone is necessarily going to have a true AI self-driving car, and will be relying instead on using other people’s AI self-driving cars to get around. In that sense, they might as well then use the box-on-wheels for getting their groceries. Also, even if you had your own true AI self-driving car, it might not have the refrigerated capabilities that presumably the box-on-wheels might have.

I’ve mentioned the idea of keeping food cold, but there’s also the potential desire of keeping food hot. Perhaps from the grocery store, I order some cooked chicken that the grocery store is selling at their in-store buffet. I’d want the chicken to remain hot during the journey to me. Thus, the compartments might need refrigeration and they might also need some form of heating capability.

This also brings up the recent efforts by Domino’s Pizza and by Pizza Hut to consider using AI self-driving vehicles to delivery pizza. Pizza Hut has teamed-up with Toyota and opted to try and get ovens closer to the door of the customer. These kinds of boxes-on-wheels are potentially going to either be keeping the pizza warmed-up or could possibly even be cooking the pizza during the journey of performing the delivery.

They still face the same issue about having the customer come out to the box-on-wheels to get the goods. You are having a wild party in your apartment and you’ve been drinking quite a bit. The pizza delivery box-on-wheels shows up outside at the curb, but there’s no human attendant. You and two of your buddies stumble out the door of your place and meander to the curb, and can barely walk, let alone carry eight large pizza boxes back into the house. Not a pretty site. Things could quickly go awry. This is a conundrum for the pizza delivery business.

In the case of Domino’s, they teamed-up with Ford and did an interesting experiment. They did a month long test in Ann Arbor, Michigan and had a human driver that was instructed to not interact with the customers at all. The vehicle contained the pizza that was to be delivered, placed in the backseat area and reachable to the customer by the vehicle rolling down the back window, and it was a pretense that there wasn’t any human to interact with, thus, similar to picking up a pizza from an AI self-driving vehicle.

Some of the customers indicated they liked the idea of not having to interact with a human attendant. I can see why they might say this, having gotten pizza delivery and had to make small talk with the driver or otherwise deal with giving a tip, I’ve at times dreaded ordering from my local pizza place simply due to the need to interact with the delivery person.

As mentioned earlier herein, they discovered the parking problem issue of knowing where to best stop the vehicle to accommodate the customer (recall that they were pretending that the human driver could not interact with the customer – this is somewhat the case for today’s AI, but in the future should not be).

One other aspect to note is the ordering of pizzas by parents for their children. Suppose you as a parent are going out for the night. You order a pizza to be delivered to the home for the kids to eat. Normally, the delivery person would come up to the door. There is some danger with this in that you are going to have the kids open the door to a stranger, but at least it is presumably someone that is “known” in the sense that they were an authorized delivery person by the pizza place. With the advent of the box-on-wheels, the kids would need to come out to the vehicle. Depending upon the neighborhoods and other factors, I think we can all realize that this is possibly dangerous and problematic.

Boxes on wheels. There’s little doubt that in spite of the potential emergence of AI self-driving cars, we’ll still need some kind of specialized vehicles to do deliveries. An AI self-driving car that is optimized for carrying passengers will not be as optimized for carrying goods. This though does not mean that they cannot carry goods, and in fact we ought to expect that AI self-driving cars will indeed be carrying goods. There are some designs for AI self-driving cars that allow for a ready switch-over of the interior to be for purposes of carrying people to instead carrying items.

We are still a long way away from having true AI self-driving cars. And, they will not become prevalent overnight. Thus, there is definitely an opportunity for the advent of boxes-on-wheels. There are many opportunities available in this niche and it provides an exciting source of challenges. The phrase “box on wheels” sounds perhaps demeaning to some, but it has the potential for being a money-making way to undertake deliveries, can reduce the cost of delivery, can aid society by enabling delivery, and is going in the direction of a society that wants to order online and have items delivered to them. Two cheers for box-on-wheels.

Copyright 2019 Dr. Lance Eliot

This content is originally posted on AI Trends.