For nearly 50 years, FedEx’s local package delivery method has largely gone unchanged, but it may soon evolve. The multinational corporation is currently working with the city of Manchester to begin testing a new last-mile delivery method. It involves a highly automated robot, resembling a mini fridge on wheels, that will transport products from local hubs to their final destinations.

Thanks to state-of-the-art cameras and sensors, the FedEx Sameday Bot can efficiently cover the last leg of deliveries without a human operator. And because it can travel on sidewalks, this technology could increase shipping speed while reducing roadway congestion – greatly benefiting New Hampshirites.

Cutting-edge automated technologies have the potential to extend far beyond last-mile deliveries. But in order to improve the lives of consumers everywhere, New Hampshire needs a permissive regulatory environment that encourages usage and development.

In cities across the nation, highly automated vehicles (HAVs) are taking to the streets. Like the FedEx Sameday Bot, HAVs are equipped with advanced sensors and computers that allow them to traverse roads with minimal human interaction. To date, companies have rolled out personal automobiles and even big rigs with highly automated capabilities, and their upside is undeniable.

In 2017, over 37,000 Americans lost their lives in vehicular accidents. Roughly 94 percent of these collisions resulted from human error. One of the goals of HAV designers is to save lives by minimizing the mistake-prone human element of driving. And there’s reason to believe that they will achieve this. After all, HAVs don’t get drunk, fall asleep or text and drive.

Increasing the number of HAVs on the roads may also ease traffic congestion. First, fewer accidents means less gridlock. Second, a recent study found that replacing a fraction of traditional vehicles with HAVs would significantly decrease the frequency of “phantom traffic jams,” which create maddening stop-and-go patterns. These are largely caused by human behavior, which means HAVs aren’t subject to the driving tendencies that cause them. Moreover, with emerging 5G technology, HAVs can communicate with vehicles far down the road to predict and properly react to developing traffic patterns, thereby reducing roadway problems.

HAVs can also fill a workforce void. There’s a massive truck driver shortage. Indeed, the industry currently needs 400,000 more big rig drivers, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 900,000 over the next 10 years. This is understandable, given the profession’s grueling schedule and work load – most truckers drive over 100,000 miles annually and many spend more than 200 days away from home each year. But without enough truckers, shipping could become more expensive or even screech to a halt.

Highly automated big rigs could address this shortage, while simultaneously reducing traffic congestion and accidents. And if the rollout of highly automated semis follows a paradigm suggested by Uber, they could be used without sacrificing any jobs.

Uber proposes the use of HAVs for tiresome, long-distance interstate hauling to and from major shipping hubs. Meanwhile, traditional semi-trucks could transport goods within cities to local hubs. Perhaps bots, like FedEx’s, could then deliver the merchandise to its final destination and help complete the full delivery cycle. While Uber’s model would help satisfy many shipping needs left by the workforce shortage, a large number of truckers would still be needed, and the paradigm could actually lead to a net gain of jobs.

Technology is progressing, and Manchester may be the epicenter of the next giant leap forward. The city should embrace testing of FedEx’s Sameday Bot, but the conversation should be about more than just deliveries. It should be about the potential of emerging technologies to save lives and transform the economy. This can only be done in an open-minded and permissive regulatory environment. Manchester, and New Hampshire as a whole, should foster such an environment so its citizens can enjoy the benefits of these cutting-edge technologies.

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