Here's an illustration of the refuse truck helper robot.  Illustration: Adrian Wirén, Mälardalens Högskola; Courtesy of Volvo

Here's an illustration of the refuse truck helper robot. Illustration: Adrian Wirén, Mälardalens Högskola; Courtesy of Volvo

So many things are automated these days. It’s both scary and wonderful.

Siri can be your personal assistant. A robot can vacuum your floors while you are at work. Your car can tell you if there’s another vehicle in your blind spot (among numerous other things cars can do these days). And Mike Antich has already discussed autonomous vehicles in his blog post, “How Will Autonomous Vehicles Disrupt Fleet Management?” earlier this year.

The scary part about automation? Artificial intelligence and robots are and will continue to take over jobs (including writing articles, apparently; don’t worry — we’re not there yet).

I usually see most automation as positive, as these machines are used to help people. What are some automated tasks that affect the fleet industry?

Increasing Automation

In September, Volvo announced it was working on a robot to help refuse truck drivers with trash collection. Automated refuse trucks already reduce work for collectors, but this little robot is more nimble.

In this scenario, the driver focuses on driving, but the robot collects the bins and empties it into the truck under the driver’s supervision. The company says this would reduce noise and allow the driver to avoid heavy lifting.

We know Google, Uber, and the truck industry want to replace drivers with self-driving cars. So it might not be long before these trucks drive themselves too.

Amazon sees delivery drones in its future, getting packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less. A health clinic in Virginia received the first government-approved drone delivery in the U.S. in July. And an Ohio company that offers a drone-and-truck combination is among the 15 companies qualified by the U.S. Postal Service as a potential supplier of its next-generation delivery vehicle.

While I doubt the USPS would be the first to test mail and parcel delivery via drone, if it works successfully for private-­sector delivery services, who’s to say the Postal Service wouldn’t have its own drones assisting mailmen and women?

Also in July, a Georgia county considered adding up to 17 drones to its police fleet. It would arrive at the scene of incident within 90 seconds and transmit video to ground responders en route to the scene. Commissioners eventually chose to delay the decision.

It doesn’t end there. The U.S. Navy is testing a robotic firefighter for ships, a 6-foot robot may soon be patrolling streets, and Amazon has been using robots in its warehouses.

Here’s one that’s more relevant to your technicians: Audi deployed service robots that help dealership technicians diagnose and repair vehicles by connecting the technician with technical assistance consultants at Audi. The robot is designed as a communications portal, but I could see it evolving into a diagnostic and repair robot that doesn’t require human control, perhaps functioning as a technician’s assistant.

Who’s Going to Fix That?

Technicians have to get trained to fix all the new technology in vehicles now, so it’s possible that in the future, the fleet department may eventually have to service new robots and drones that become part of a public sector fleet. The Georgia county drones mentioned above would have come with a maintenance plan, but if unmanned aircraft become common within public agencies, perhaps a separate division in fleet could come to oversee that.

If the industry has technician training problems now, wait until a refuse truck robot joins the fleet!

How do you view automation and how do you think it will affect fleet operations? Or what do you wish were automated now?

About the author
Thi Dao

Thi Dao

Former Executive Editor

Thi is the former executive editor of Government Fleet magazine.

View Bio