For centuries, Santa Claus and his reindeer have been the most efficient delivery organization in the world. In just one night, the folks up at the North Pole can orchestrate a feat that makes Jeff Bezos and his fleet of delivery drones jealous. Unfortunately for children in the US, shipping delays and worker shortages might keep Santa from hitting his deadline this December 25th.
As we emerged from the shutdown caused by the pandemic, consumer demand rose to its traditional level. Various stimulus packages and a renewed desire for life as it was before April 2020 encouraged new spending and activity. Meanwhile, supply had responded to the pandemic and shrunk to a sustainable level. Workers were reconsidering their careers and addressing life with a new lens gained during the collective trauma of the pandemic. These factors worked together to produce a supply chain crunch that might mean shelves have very little inventory for traditional last-minute holiday shoppers. Although some holiday shoppers have already responded to these warnings and bought presents earlier, John Quelch, Dean of the Herbert Business School at the University of Miami, advised that it might be a bad year to be the child of procrastinating parents.
As we enter into an autonomous future, it is easy to see where autonomous technology could fit onto our local and global routines and solve these complex issues. In a world with autonomous and connected vehicles, computers could make decisions based on real-time data instead of relying on our best guesses. Workers would be used efficiently, and goods would not be stuck at the mercy of changing employment trends. With autonomous and connected vehicles, we might realize the type of efficiency that makes Santa and his reindeer such outliers.
The autonomous industry is already preparing to step into this lurch. In preparation for the holiday season, Waymo and UPS announced that they would expand their long-running partnership to include the deployment of a Peterbilt fleet of Class 8 vehicles. This deployment will occur in Texas, where Waymo is already building a new hub for its autonomous semi-trailer trucks. The Waymo driver will haul goods between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston through the end of the holiday season, building on their testing in the semi-truck space.
This winter, New Yorkers might see their own Miracle on 34th Street as Waymo vehicles begin mapping Manhattan in preparation for an early 2023 launch. While the cars will have drivers, Waymo hopes to use the testing data to inform its entire fleet. By testing in a climate different from their hubs in the Southwest, Waymo will learn how its sensors and systems handle new conditions and situations.
In past holiday seasons, Apple might have topped wish lists with a new tablet, phone, or gadget. But this year, the buzz surrounding the company is generated by its focus on an autonomous Apple car. Recently, reports have leaked that Apple is doubling down on its efforts and hoping to release its long-rumored autonomous vehicle in 2025. The company is considering creating a vehicle without a steering wheel or peddles but with an interior made entirely of seating capacity. Like Waymo and Cruise, Apple is focusing on robotaxis instead of personal vehicles. Currently, Apple has placed Kevin Lynch, an alum of the Apple Watch development, in charge of the vehicle’s development. This has caused critics to wonder whether the company is underestimating the effort it takes to produce a car and spending too much of its focus on software and artificial intelligence. While Lynch might not have much experience in vehicle production, Apple has recently hired Michael Schwekutsch and Stuart Bowers, former Tesla executives, to assist in the car’s production.
Recently, Dodge announced that it will cease production on gas-powered Charger sedans and Challenger coupes in 2024 to prepare for electric vehicles. They hope to debut an electric muscle car concept in 2022, followed by plug-in hybrids, trucks, and an entire family of cars featuring their own branding under the company’s Fratzog logo used in the 1960s and 1970s. Industry and advocates alike are realizing that a positive future for the climate will include electric vehicles. The inclusion of funds for an electric vehicle charging grid in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package, even after it was targeted for removal, only continues to show the universal recognition that the industry is moving toward a more sustainable future. Most autonomous vehicles will require electric vehicles and benefit from the industry’s investment in their development.
Shipping delays, worker shortages, and climate concerns all demonstrate the need for autonomous and connected vehicles. While Santa delivers gifts to every child worldwide in one night, our global shipping system doesn’t have a war room of elves ensuring everything runs smoothly. However, with the integration of autonomous and connected technology, we could create a system, instantly responsive to our changing globe, that rivals the speed and efficiency of the North Pole.