Who Can Affect the Environment More? Package Delivery Robots or Humans?

Whether a package delivery robot or a person the carbon emissions would remain same

Greenhouse emissions


As the carbon footprints and greenhouse emissions are increasing day by day, what do you think? Can package delivery robots affect the environment or the humans? Scroll down to know more. Some of the researchers recently examined this very topic by comparing both the impacts of robots with a traditional approach where human drivers hand-deliver packages. The findings of the researchers say that the robots and automation contribute about less than 20% of a package’s footprint and as most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from the vehicle of transport. 

The key factors determining the package’s footprints are one id vehicle powertrain and the other is fuel economy. Researchers say that just switching to the electric vehicles and reducing the carbon footprints intensity of the electricity can be the biggest impacts in sustainable parcel delivery. 

The researchers studied the life cycle analysis of the cradle-to-grave greenhouse emissions of the delivery process. They didn’t just tally the emissions from the delivery process but also  noted down the greenhouse emissions  that were released from the manufacturing of the vehicles and robots too. It also took into account the disposing factors or recycling factors after their lives. 

Gregory Keoleian, the Peter M. Wege who is an endowed professor of sustainable systems at the U-M School of Environment and Sustainability and also a professor of civil and environmental engineering said that they found the energy and carbon footprints of the automated delivery in suburban areas as the same to that of the traditional and conventional human driven vehicles. He also added that the benefits of fuel economy using vehicle automation were offset by greater electricity loads from the automated vehicle and the power needs.

From all the delivery systems examined and studied, the vehicle-use phase is the only biggest contributor to greenhouse emissions. This in turn also highlights the need for low-carbon fuels for sustainable parcel delivery. And it is very much essential to decarbonize grids while deploying the electrified vehicles. 

But when we look at the present scenario, the E-commerce and online shopping has been gaining much momentum due to the COVID-19 focused demand of contactless delivery that has stoked industry interest in robots and also the autonomous vehicles to make the delivery process more efficient. For example, UPS and Waymo are testing the autonomous delivery van in Arizona. Amazon and FedEX are already testing drones and robots for delivery. And on the other side, Ford Motor Co and Agility Robotics are also exploring a system that can use a two-legged walking robots to deliver and cart the packages from the van to the customer’s doorstep. 

According to the latest survey the automated last-mile delivery market is expected to reach nearly US$11.9 billion by 2030. This type of delivery is also a very expensive one as most of the carbon-intensive and least energy-efficient links in the supply chain. The team of the researchers evaluated the greenhouse emissions from the three delivery scenarios such as conventional, partially automated and fully automated and four vehicle platforms. They analyzed each scenario and internal combustion engine and battery electric powertrains on two sizes of delivery vehicle. 

The results revealed that the smallest carbon footprint of 167 grams of CO2 per package came from the conventional delivery with the smaller, electric van. And in contrast the largest one of 486 grams came from a partially automated vehicle. The final results show that automated delivery systems could have a bit greater life cycle greenhouse emissions than the traditional delivery systems for smaller sized vans. And also there is a potential chance to reduce greenhouse emissions for larged sized vans too. 

And when compared to the traditional scenario, full automation resulted in the same greenhouse gas emissions for the large gasoline powered cargo van, but higher in rate with 10% for the smaller battery electric van. Keoleian added that no single automated delivery system will suit all situations, and in addition to environmental performance, other factors will need to be considered, such as life cycle costs, safety, visual impact and social sustainability factors such as employment impacts. 


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