This week saw a self-driving pact between an automaker and autonomous car maker, retailer Walmart adding robots to scan shelves and assist customers, and FedEx canceling a planned distribution center because of increased automation utilization.
Robotics Business Review has partnered with Abishur Prakash at Center for Innovating the Future to provide its members with cutting-edge insights into recent developments in international robotics, artificial intelligence, and unmanned systems. Are you ready to be updated?
Which vehicles will self-driving giants use?
Waymo and Jaguar Land Rover have signed a self-driving pact to have 20,000 Jaguar vehicles added to the self-driving fleet of Waymo in the next two years. Waymo plans to start offering self-driving ride-hailing in 2020. Through the Jaguar deal, Waymo wants to service 1 million trips every day.
While most headlines revolve around Waymo making this decision so close to the fatal Uber car cash, there is a bigger question to ponder. Whose cars will self-driving giants use — Waymo, Baidu, Lyft, or Uber? The cars these companies use may be a new way for companies or countries show their geopolitical alignment.
For example, China wants 30 million self-driving cars on the road within a decade. Will China use Geely, BAIC, or BYD? Or could China direct its firms to turn to say, Volvo or BMW, as a way to build relations with Sweden or Germany, respectively? At the same time, Sweden or Germany may prioritize exporting their self-driving vehicles to China as a way to demonstrate their alignment with China.
Nobody is talking about the cars self-driving giants will use following this self-driving pact, but these cars may be a new way countries grow their geopolitical footprint.
Walmart robots move in U.S., but not globally
Walmart made headlines for deploying robots to 50 of its stores in the U.S. These robots, in states such as Arkansas and California, are completely autonomous. The retailer is using them to scan aisles and identify items that are out of stock. Interestingly, Walmart isn’t just using the robots to increase productivity, but also to improve the customer experience by identifying items that are out of stock or running low before customers arrive in that aisle.
While Walmart is hush-hush about whether these robots will result in certain employees losing their jobs — or, more likely, being shifted to different roles — there is a bigger question here. Walmart is building robot infrastructure that other companies, many outside the U.S., may want. Could Walmart offer this as robot infrastructure as a service in say, China or India?
Equally important is patents. Walmart has filed for a patent to use drones in its stores to “assist” customers. But, like many questions regarding intellectual property (IP), will Walmart’s patent be protected outside the U.S.?
This may grow in importance in the future as the U.S. cracks down on IP violations abroad. The next round of trade tariffs or investigations could be around violations in new technology sectors, like retail robots, creating geopolitical tensions around robots.
‘Automation ratios’ could be a way to protect jobs
Recently, logistics giant FedEx canceled a distribution center planned for Indiana that would have acted as a shipping hub for the area. In a statement connected to FedEx, increased “utilization” of automation was mentioned as one of the reasons for scrapping the center. In other words, because of automation technologies, FedEx was able to make use of what it currently has, instead of needing to build more.
This may not seem like a huge deal, but it is. At a time when the U.S. is trying to encourage companies to open up shop or expand their footprint, automation plays a dual role. It takes away jobs, and it influences the business decisions of companies on whether to expand or not.
Once again, this points to a need for governments to create policies that regulate automation and its effects on industry. For example, in my book, Next Geopolitics: Volume One, I proposed the concept of “automation ratios,” whereby governments could mandate that companies can only automate 15% or 20% of their workforce, and the remaining jobs must go to humans.
More on self-driving cars:
- RBR Insider Report: U.S. Policy on Self-Driving Cars Stuck in Neutral
- Around the World, Driverless Car Rules in Flux
- News Analysis: Uber’s Self-Driving Fatality Prods Vehicle Safety, Foreign Policies
- TRI-AD to Develop Mobility Software in Toyota, Aisin Seiki, and Denso Teamup
- Robot Investments Weekly: Self-Driving Tech Funding Keeps on Truckin’
- Moving the Masses: Autonomous Vehicles in Public Transport
- Robotics & Geopolitics: Drone Threats, AI Taxis, and Immigration Reactions Raise Policy Questions