Royal Mail – could we see driverless trucks or drones?

While a number of other postal services are trialling and piloting drone delivery technology, Royal Mail has indicated that it is watching such developments with interest, though won’t likely run a pilot itself.

The UK postal operator’s Chief Executive Moya Greene said that while she’s interested in drone technology, driverless trucks could reduce the costs of delivery in rural areas, and thereby aid the newly privatised company tackle the cost issues around its Universal Service Obligation. She said, “I’d love to see how sensory technology is working, so that we can probably see a day when we’re going to have driverless trucks, and very very well-constructed ways on the highways system.”

Where the idea of drone delivery systems makes headlines, practically it there are real technology, regulatory and safety issues around flying robots delivering parcels. Driverless truck technology, while illegal under the Vienna Convention, is being worked on and will be tackled when the Netherlands takes over the presidency of the European Union in 2016. A number of major companies are looking into making ground based autonomous delivery vehicles a reality in the coming years. The Transport Research Laboratory has a project running in Greenwich, London, while Google is famously testing the Google Car.

While the difficulty of getting autonomous delivery vehicles working on the ground is being looked at, at a small scale these could beat drones to the delivery market. Apex Insight reported last week that a new system could be in operation by 2017.

Reporting on the speech that Green gave to the CBI the postal operator journal Post and Parcel suggested that while Royal Mail is interested, it won’t be in a hurry. The journal said, “Greene has intimated that Royal Mail too might be interested in looking in the technology in the future – although this does seem to be a possible item on the “wish list”, rather than a plan in the “to-do” in-tray.”