The last mile

Whenever I say that I am setting out on a career in truck driving people invariably say something like “you must be mad – that is all going to be automated soon”.


Maybe the long haul stuff between Regional Distribution Centres, maybe in American cities with their more regimented grid systems, but everything else? You must be kidding.

Most of my work is what is known as multi-drop. Up to eight or ten deliveries in a day, many of them in remote areas with windy country lanes, or in Central London with it’s gloriously random patterns of roads.

A lot of the firms I have worked for deliver into building sites. By definition building sites are new. They are often not reliably mapped yet and the Sat Nav often gets their location really wrong.

Once you get there navigating around the site is a nightmare, despite the Site Managers’ and Traffic Managers’ best efforts. Every time you visit the site there is a different combination of parked vehicles, skips, moving fork lifts, scaffolding extending beyond the perimeter of buildings. It’s a real challenge and changes day by day.

The thought of an AI system having enough information to not only get to the site but to manage entry and exit is a joke.

My guess is that most of the areas being eyed hungrily by the tech companies selling the benefits of automation and AI will have their own equivalents of “the last mile”. That gloriously messy and unpredictable junction between theory and practice, between order and chaos, where our best laid plans meet the real world and we have to grapple with that world to get anything to work!

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