Autonomous delivery is jumping the shark

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The TV series Happy Days pre-dates me somewhat, but by most accounts it was a quality show – except when it was awful.

On an episode that aired Sept. 20, 1977, the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis and that became a turning point most would agree where the show was out of good ideas.

Since that time, “jumping the shark” has been used to describe the moment when once relevant things turn into absurdity, and I think we’re getting there with autonomous delivery.

This week, Google was awarded a patent for what it described as an “autonomous delivery platform.” It’s basically a series of safety deposit boxes strapped to a truck chassis.

Once the Google driverless delivery truck arrives at its destination, the recipient approaches the vehicle and enters a PIN, or swipes a credit card, to open a locker that contains their package. That package could be anything from a Christmas present from Aunt Mildred to a pizza.

Of all the impractical innovations in delivery and autonomy, I see this one as the most “out there.”

A driverless truck loaded down with city blocks after city blocks of deliveries is going to be an easy target for cargo theft. There’s also the obstacle of no one being home to receive the package.

Drone delivery, which has a long way to go to overcome plenty of hurdles of its own, can release the package at its delivery target.

Maybe this application is well suited for quick turnaround deliveries like pizza or home delivery of groceries; something you order from home and is shipped locally in under an hour. But there doesn’t seem to be enough volume for something like that to make this feasible.

Google filed this patent nearly 3 years ago, and I believe technology and innovation has passed it by while awaiting approval. Maybe 36 months ago this could have been a splashy idea.

But when we have delivery vans capable of launching drones at speeds upwards of 50 miles an hour, I think the future lies a little closer to that than a rolling storage locker.