Robotics

Are consumers ready for robots on their doorstep?

15th November 2023
Paige West
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As e-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart accelerate their push into drone delivery, the question arises: are consumers ready for this aerial shift in delivery services?

Amazon aims to make 10,000 drone deliveries in Europe this year, while Walmart plans to extend its drone services to an additional 60,000 homes in the United States. This surge in investment towards drone delivery raises critical questions about public acceptance and readiness.

Consumer readiness: a study by Northwestern University

Northwestern University’s Mobility and Behaviour Lab, led by Amanda Stathopoulos, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, conducted a study to gauge consumer readiness for a future where robots and drones replace traditional delivery methods. The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveal a societal need to adapt to and embrace these emerging technologies.

“We need to think really carefully about the effect of these new technologies on people and communities, and to tune in to what they think about these changes,” Stathopoulos said.

The study titled ‘Robots at your doorstep: Acceptance of near-future technologies for automated parcel delivery’ explores the complex relationship between behaviour and acceptance of automated delivery technologies.

The research team conducted a survey among 692 US respondents, asking about various delivery options and related aspects like speed, package handling, and general perceptions.

Findings of the study

Automated vehicles vs. drones and robots: the study found a preference for automated vehicles over drones and robots for parcel delivery, possibly due to the existing familiarity with self-driving cars.

Influence of delivery speed and cost: an increase in delivery speed and a decrease in price heightened the acceptance of drone and robot deliveries

Tech-savvy consumers more accepting: those more familiar with technology were found to be more receptive to these new delivery methods

Societal implications and challenges

Stathopoulos, also a faculty affiliate of Northwestern’s Transportation Centre, highlighted the societal paradox post-pandemic, where consumers expect efficient delivery but often overlook the associated issues such as labour conditions and environmental impact. The study calls for a reconciliation of convenience with its broader implications.

Challenges for implementation

Stathopoulos pointed out that despite the excitement around new delivery modes, societal acceptance is not yet at a level for seamless adoption. She stressed the need for shipping and logistics centres to be central in city planning and design. Additionally, the involvement of policymakers is crucial as drone usage increases and labour markets shift. The study argues that for these innovations to succeed, there needs to be more consolidation of systems among companies.

Path forward

Stathopoulos advocates for more frequent assessments of user acceptance and suggests that policymakers and companies should work together to address public concerns and reluctance. She believes that embracing the inevitable changes in cityscapes due to increased deliveries and fostering collaboration and coordination between companies are key to future success.

Conclusion

The study, supported by the National Science Foundation Career programme, highlights a pivotal moment in urban and technological evolution. As drone delivery becomes more prevalent, understanding, and shaping consumer attitudes will be crucial in navigating the transition from traditional delivery methods to a more automated future.

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