We all have heard that the United States Postal Service is not on good financial footing. There are many reasons for that ranging from the typical government bureaucracy to poor management to competition. Postal Service administrators are told to run it like a business and yet are given limited tools to do so while being legislated into doing things by Congress. It is not a good way to run a business, but then the Postal Service is not your typical business. That could be about to change and robots may be at the heart of it. Could your next mail carrier be a robot?

Huge overhead at the USPS

The overhead of the Postal Service is huge. Around half a million employees, nearly a quarter of a million vehicles, over 30,000 post offices and 4,000 contractor-run locations. Each of them costs money. You have most certainly seen letter carriers out and about delivering the mail. Imagine what the Postal Service could save if they didn’t need them anymore.

Robots could change package delivery

There was a time when a person went into the post office to collect their mail. Today that is simply not practical so how could the letter carrier be replaced. You’ve probably guess it: robots. An American startup called Buddy Mobility has partnered with the Norwegian Postal Service Posten Norge to provide a robot that will deliver the mail.

The robot moves at about 6 kilometers per hour (3.7 mph) and is capable of delivering 100 parcels per day. That is of course a drop in the bucket compared to what the average letter carrier delivers. The robot does not deliver directly to a person’s door. Instead a notification will be sent through an app and the person will then meet the robot and pick up their mail. When the user hits a corresponding button on the app their drawer will open allowing them to get their parcels. Parcels can also be mailed via the robot as well. After delivering its contents the robot will return to base to recharge its batteries. It is styled as On Demand Delivery.

Not practical in the US yet

Obviously this is not practical in the US, yet so the union positions in the Postal Service are in no danger today. It Norway it is being advertised as a way to decrease mail volume and save a little bit of money. This would work better much better in an urban environment where residents are more tightly packed or in apartment complexes in the suburbs. It will not replace all human letter carriers, though drones could become more efficient in rural or suburban settings in the future as well.

The other major hangup is actual delivery. How would the mail get to someone who works all day? Today’s system where a letter carrier leaves the parcels in a box and the person picks them up at their convenience seems to work fine. This particular robot mail carrier would not address those needs so it may not be practical for all, which would still require human mail carriers, though the robot could certainly reduce their load. Perhaps the next iteration will be able to deliver directly to a mailbox. Considering how fast AI and robotic technology has advanced in the past decade that is not out of the realm of possibility.

Robots are taking our jobs, there is no doubt about it, and it leaves humans in a very uncomfortable place. While we all can get a chuckle out of the people of South Park complaining about losing their jobs it is a very real reality. Postal workers are protected by a union so replacing them will not be easy but like with seemingly everything else, robots will take their jobs. One of the major questions facing humanity in the next century is going to be what will happen when robots are doing the work that people used to do? It is something that we will need to figure out sooner rather than later because that could be a reality for many workers within the next generation.

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