Despite the hype, drones may be only one small part of the future of post. It’s expected that not only drones but self-driving trucks may be the next big thing in mail delivery.
Speaking Wednesday at the Drones For Good panel held during Sydney’s Vivid festival, Dirk van Lammeren, general manager of small business at Australia Post, told Mashable Australiathe company is considering all of its options.
In dense, urban areas, for example, he’s not entirely convinced of the value of airborne drones. Drones that can move along the pavement, though? That can’t be ruled out.
“I personally think that in high density areas, the traditional ways of delivering parcels through couriers is a very good one, with even drones and robots that actually run on the ground to deliver,” he explained.
Imagine a small load carrying robot going hand in hand with the postman: “If you have enough households to go to and enough volume, you can make it work, and a profitable business,” he said.
Nevertheless, he said Australia Post does see a benefit to flying drones in more sparsely populated areas.
In April, the company announced it would seek to begin limited trials of delivery drones for time-critical parcels and for rural post. According to van Lammeren, Australia Post is looking to complete its initial trials within six to 12 months. It is currently talking with regulators and technology partners, but trial households haven’t yet been chosen.
He is concerned with making sure that customers don’t feel their privacy is being invaded by delivery drones hovering near their front doors. “Only by doing [the trial] can it give us insight,” he said. “Does it work? Is it feasible? Is it viable? Are our customers waiting for it or is it awkward?”
The post office is also open to exploring the use of autonomous vehicles, he suggested. “We have a massive footprint in terms of freight, cargo, trucks and airplanes. We feel responsible to do that in an economic way, but also in a sustainable way,” he said. “We are very keen to understand that technology, and how, in the future, that could apply for how we do [post].”
Before the sky goes dark with delivery drones, van Lammeren would like to see the technology advance in terms of safety. Before they can be widely deployed, drones and autonomous vehicles will need to be made more aware of surrounding obstacles.
“Who else is around me? What do I do if it’s getting congested?” he said. “The drones, the [autonomous] vehicles, whatever it is, they need to have a sense of what’s going on in their environment.”