Summary: Autonomous vehicles will disrupt how the postal service delivers… and the agency welcomes the changes.

Like it or not, the driverless revolution is here, and widespread use of autonomous vehicles is (pardon the pun) just down the road.

The United States Postal Service (USPS, and often referred to simply as “the post office”) is prepared for the upcoming changes. In fact, the Office of the Inspector General recently released a report detailing how the USPS will handle their role in this developing technology.

Faster Service, Happier Customers

In short, while officials don’t see driverless cars replacing human carriers, they view a scenario where machines could “assist carriers in delivering mail.” For example, as a carrier walks his or her route, the vehicle could closely follow them, or park and meet up with the carrier at a pre-determined location. This would allow carriers to complete their routes faster and even take on heftier routes, which would save time and thus make the agency more efficient.

Another option would place carriers inside the vehicles. Rather that driving, they would use their time to sort mail and perform other tasks — further improving productivity.

The “mobile parcel locker” concept would revolutionize the industry by allowing customers to retrieve mail 24/7. More than a P.O. Box, this option would allow mail to be delivered several times per day — increasing delivery frequency to residents and business owners.

Officials are also considering unmanned truck delivery. Removing the need for driver breaks would allow mail to be transported non-stop through the night. This would result in faster delivery times.

USPS autonomous vehicle
Artist’s rendering of what USPS autonomous vehicles could look like

Safety Concerns

According to statistics-gathering website Statista, USPS staff were involved in more than 30,000 road crashes in 2016. It’s estimated that 12 drivers die each year in on-the-job traffic incidents.

Officials hope driverless cars will reduce and even eliminate crashes and fatalities. Meanwhile, critics predict autonomous vehicles will create confusion and unsafe situations.

Still, working with University of Michigan, the USPS says they are on track to introduce a driverless fleet on rural routes by 2025.■