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Are consumers open to home visits from robots?

With Amazon aiming to make 10,000 drone deliveries in Europe this year and Walmart planning to expand its drone delivery services to an additional 60,000 households this year in the United States, companies are investing more funds in research and development in drone delivery. ready to accept this change as the new normal?

The Northwestern University Mobility and Behavior Lab, led by Amanda Stathopoulos, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, wanted to know if consumers were ready for robots to replace delivery drivers, in the form of automated vehicles, drones and robots. The team found that, on a societal level, there was work to be done to change the public’s perception of near-future technology.

“We need to think very carefully about the effect of these new technologies on people and communities, and listen to what they think about these changes,” said Stathopoulos, the lead author of the study. .

The study, entitled “Robots at your door: acceptance of near-future technologies for automated parcel delivery” published last week in the journal Scientific reports. The researchers noted a “complex and multifaceted” relationship between behavior and acceptance of near-future technologies for automated package delivery.

While people were generally more willing to accept an automated vehicle as a substitute for a delivery person — perhaps because they are already familiar with self-driving cars — they disliked drones and robots as options. However, as delivery times increased and prices decreased, the likelihood of accepting the technology increased.

They also found that tech-savvy consumers were more accepting of near-future technologies than populations less familiar with the technology.

Stathopoulos is the William Patterson Junior Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, where she studies the human aspects of new mobility systems. She is also a faculty member at Northwestern’s Transportation Center. She said that, especially after the pandemic, people expect efficient delivery of online purchases as they increasingly work from home.

Maher Said, a graduate student in Stathopoulos’ lab, is the lead author of the study.

“There is a paradox: we struggle to reconcile the convenience and benefits of fast and efficient delivery with its consequences, such as poor working conditions in warehouses, air pollution and congested streets” , Stathopoulos said. “We don’t really see this other role that we play as citizens or users of the city. And one role directly affects the other role, and we both are. With automated delivery, we could reduce some of these problems.

The team designed a survey to gauge the preferences of 692 respondents in the United States, asking about different delivery options and variables such as delivery speed, package handling and general perceptions.

Stathopoulos said that while new delivery modes present an exciting opportunity, on a societal level, “we’re not there yet.” As companies increase drone deliveries, partly because of labor shortages and partly because existing systems cannot satisfy the sheer volume of e-commerce deliveries, researchers warn that these innovations could fail due to a lack of public acceptance.

Stathopoulos said she thinks shipping and logistics centers should be placed “at the forefront” of urban planning and design, as in some European cities, to recognize their importance and role in quality of life. Policymakers will also need to participate in the debate as more drones enter the airspace and the workforce evolves. According to Stathopoulos, none of this will work until companies start consolidating their unique systems.

“On the planning side, we need to make sure that we recognize the fact that the massive amount of deliveries is going to shape our cities,” Stathopoulos said. “Collaborating, coordinating and sharing information between companies is an ongoing challenge, but it won’t work if everyone has their own technology. This simply defeats the purpose and creates redundant and overlapping systems.

However, by listening and evaluating user acceptance of technologies more frequently, Stathopoulos argues that policymakers and businesses can prepare for the future and work to overcome anxiety and reluctance to accept new technologies.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation Career Program.

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