I was tasked with putting together a photo gallery this week showcasing the incredible array of new, autonomous delivery robots that are now being developed and tested in cities all over the world. These are wondrous machines – modern-day marvels that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. It’s like a science fiction movie come to life. And and there is no question they could have massive potential to transform our world in ways we can only begin to imagine right now.
And then I thought, But what’s gonna happen when one of these things runs into a teenager for the first time?
You may laugh. But I’m not kidding. The human teenager, particularly the bored, American variety of human teenager, is the most wantonly uncaring and destructive force ever let loose on human society. And I know this because once, many years ago, I used to be one. And echoes of that little, um… person, still rattle around inside my middle-aged brain. I’m not gonna lie to you: When I first saw the story about the Ford Digit delivery robot a few weeks ago, my first thought was, Huh. I wonder how hard it would be to trip that thing and make it fall over?
And that is precisely the attitude a teenager is going to have the first time he spots an unattended delivery robot moving down his street. You might as well paint a big bullseye on them, because the temptation to go and mess with them is going to be irresistible for your average teen. It’s just a matter of time before one of them decides that – at the very least – those robots would make excellent roving art exhibits for their latest graffiti masterpiece.
And that doesn’t take into account more sinister forces loose in the world – crooks, people looking for prescription drugs, and so on. Which is why the designers of these delivery drones make cargo security one of the primary design features from the get-go. Because if crooks will take a pickup truck and wrench an entire ATM machine out of a wall, there’s no telling what they’re liable to do if an unaccompanied robot trundles past them.
That’s not a slam against these new robotic delivery drones. This is simply the world we live in. To put things in a bit of perspective, if there’s not a delivery drone around, there are teens who will be more than happy to spray-paint a trailer or bust a hood ornament off of a truck hood. So none of these things are anything new.
But they do underscore the many problems robot designers have to solve before they can send their creations out into the world with groceries, prescriptions and packages. It’s not enough for them to simply find their way to their correct destination. They also have to deal with curbs, steps, stairs, pedestrians, pets, traffic and – yes, teenagers and criminals. Designers have to ask themselves all kinds of questions as they build their robots. If it falls, or gets knocked over, can it get back up? What if some kid whacks it with a baseball bat or spray-paints the camera lens it uses to see the world? What will it do if somebody loads it up into a pickup truck and drives off into the country with it? And speaking of being out in the country – I live in Alabama: Don’t think that the mere sight of a flying delivery drone isn’t going make more than few folks around here reach for their 12-gauge shotguns when one comes buzzing along. Just because.
We live in a crazy world. The robots have no idea what they’re getting into.