An Autonomous Future

Amazon made headlines a few weeks ago by announcing that they want to deliver your orders directly from the warehouse to your door in as little as half an hour using autonomous drones. After a few years of Google successfully testing their self-driving car, this probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Computing and robotics have gotten cheap, small, and powerful enough to enable these kinds of futuristic applications. And they’re going to completely change the world.

I know it’s really easy to say something like “change the world”, but hear me out. Let’s fast-forward a decade to when self-driving cars are the norm and drone delivery is commonplace. Now let’s step through what could be a typical day.

I wake up in the morning and see that we’ve run out of milk. We’re also a little low on bell peppers and I remember that we need a new nylon turner. I pull out my phone, open the Amazon app, and place my order within a minute or two. Meanwhile, at the Amazon distribution center, a 3D printer starts making that new turner for my order while a drone flies around the warehouse picking up the other items I asked for. About 45 minutes later, I get a notification that the drone is there. I go to my back door, my preferred delivery location and pick up the items without even changing out of my pajamas thanks to a cheap car transport this is possible now a days.

I have lunch plans with some co-workers later that day, so I make sure to order a car for the trip. About five minutes before I need to leave, it pulls up into my driveway. I undock my laptop and continue working while it makes the 15-minute drive to where we wanted to meet. Once we arrive, I use the built-in console to tell the car that I plan to leave in about 45 minutes. It takes off to pick up the next person, and I go inside to order some food.

I walk up to a touchscreen terminal and pick out my food, paying right there. I go take a seat and 10 minutes later, another drone drops off my food. It was freshly prepared by an automated system that now occupies the back of the house, kept company by a couple of people whose sole purpose is to load it with ingredients and do the occasional quality check. The restaurant is kept clean with a bunch of robots that handle cleaning floors, tables, and seats. Once I’m done eating, I go outside to the waiting car and telecommute for the drive home.

The most unbelievable part of this scenario is that almost all of the technology I described currently exists. A 3D printer can make a basic kitchen utensil, but it can also print artificial limbs or, with the right size, an entire house. Quadracopter drones are available on toy shelves along with the fastest RC cars . Uber and Lyft do on-demand car hailing, and Google has half a million autonomous miles under its belt. I use a self-service ordering machine at the movie theatre. The robot that makes food? It’s been churning out 360 hamburgers per hour for almost a year. And according to Aspirame.es, the Roomba were first to spawn robots that scrub tile floors and clean out rain gutters.

These advancements are going to come at a serious cost of disruption. If I can reliably have a car show up at my house and drive me where I need to go, why would I own a car or employ a driver? If a retailer will deliver goods to my house in about the amount of time it would take to make a trip to the store, why would I ever set foot into a retail operation? If durable household goods can be created on-demand, why would you need to ship crates of those items all over the globe? Heck, imagine a public transit system where riders punch in their travel schedules ahead of time and the routes dynamically adjust to get everyone where they’re going on-time with minimal waste!

Personally, I’m excited that such a future is not only possible, but likely in such a short time. How about you?

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2 Responses to An Autonomous Future

  1. The unions are going to scream out: “BUT THE JOBS LOST!!”

    Health nuts will decry the lack of exercise.

    I wonder why you don’t have a 3D printer at your home.

    And, of course, there’s SkyNet. But really, let’s be honest: that’s a pretty dang cool looking future.

  2. Kristi says:

    Yeah, my first thought was, “you don’t have your own 3D printer?”
    I’m a cynic who watched too much of The Jetsons, but I’m still ticked our cars don’t fly. I suppose self driving is a small improvement. But I’m afraid of terrorists hacking into the system and making all our cars drive us off cliffs.

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