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Robo Delivery and Changing Ideas of City

Autonomous home delivery is on the rise. McKinsey predicted in 2016 already that 80% of the good will be delivered by autonomous vehicles. The trend is still towards speedy deliveries such as instant and same day for which consumers are willing to pay significant premiums. Hence this is a big market. Even though currently in London Amazon is in most cases no longer capable of delivering same day or even next day. There seem to be limits to the expandability of deliveries.

The big driver behind deliveries is of course e-commerce. Bloomberg reports and predicts that the market will reshape by 2040. Online shopping, household goods, cloth and groceries are big business. However, both cloth and groceries are unlikely to be autonomous deliveries for people want the crates to be brought up to the doorstep and get an instant refund on unwanted items. But all else is content for to be delivered autonomously.

Animation taken from Meg Kelly/NPR / Starship’s autonomous delivery box under way in the urban context.

Tests are underway in various locations in the US and also in the UK and elsewhere. Southwark, a south London council is running a pilot scheme with Starship Technologies to deliver locally with the fleet of Starship’s own autonomous six-wheel vehicles.

Image taken from Piaggio Fast Forward press kit / Gina is shown following a person in an urban context.

These Self-Driving Delivery Robots are also being manufactured and tested by other companies, such as Marble, Nuro and , competing on this “last mile” of the delivery. Gregg Lynn design worked for Piaggio Fast Forward to develop Gina as their answer to granular mobility. The space between the customer and the warehouse. Interestingly those two locations are pretty much the only physically relevant locations within all of this. The rest of the everyday activities are increasingly becoming ubiquitous in the sense that they are transferable and pop-up doings. Things like food, work, exercise, play are being app managed with user accounts working across device and location. For goods delivery, however, location still matters and start-ups are competing for this slot. The term “last-mile” is quite fitting.

Driverless machines taking over the urban spaces and increasingly starting to shape the urban space is to be expected. Physically there will be the introduction of lanes for autonomous delivery vehicles, sort of bus line style or special parking regulations for drop off of and pick up. Of much more interest is the mental and experiential makeup of urban space in the wake of robot-delivery. The bodySpace of the urban fabric of older days. Is the world shrinking or expanding is there going to be more or less space between the warehouse and the customer?

Image taken from archiobjects / View of the High Rise City Project, L. Hilberseimer, 1924

It might bring us closer to the post city landscape where time and location no longer define the urban context but free up the space between entities. Thus creating a cross between Ludwig Hilberseimer’s High Rise City (1924) and Decentralized City (1944)? With the driving forces missing behind the urban concept new forms of spatial configurations and spatial order will become necessary and desirable. Will we be able to escape the modernist city through ultra mechanisation?

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