The U.S. Postal Service reportedly hopes to make its postal carriers significantly more efficient in coming years with help from self-driving technology.
The USPS Office of the Inspector General, Wired reports, recently released details regarding the service's autonomous vehicle ambitions. The agency partnered with the University of Michigan to build its Autonomous Rural Delivery Vehicle in hopes of putting it into service by 2025.
The trucks are semi-autonomous and would still require postal workers be behind the wheel — either to drive them or to be ready to take over at a moment's notice.
But the Post Office hopes that those employees will be able to sort mail while the trucks move along their designated routes, then place mail in mailboxes without parking the vehicle at every house.
That type of system, the report said, would translate to “small but cumulatively significant time savings.” And although human drivers would still be needed, the trucks could save the agency money by cutting fuel expenses or costs related to traffic accidents.
The first prototype truck is expected to debut by the end of the year, and the USPS hopes to pilot-test 10 prototypes in 2019. In seven years' time, the agency wants to deploy the trucks along 28,000 largely rural mail routes — where the margin for error by self-driving systems is considerably larger than in dense, urban corridors.
The OIG report also suggested that the USPS could be of service to other self-driving entities by outfitting their vehicles — which traverse the same neighborhoods day after day — with sensors and mapping technology.