A Swedish freight technology company revealed a new job title at SXSW on Monday which may help answer the interminable problem of getting packages to customers’ front door.
The last-mile of delivery is the most costly and time consuming portion of any package’s journey through global shipping. With more customers expecting free shipping, companies and logistics companies are desperate to cut down on those costs. Autonomous vehicles might be the answer to cutting costs and time, if only we could get them to think like a human when encountering problems. Einride has an autonomous pod that can mostly bumble around the streets on its own, but like all autonomous vehicle in existence today, it needs occasional help.
Enter the “Remote Pod Operator,” the first of which is trucking veteran Tiffany Heathcott. It’s the operators’ job to monitor the self-driving delivery pods and do their best to help them out of any jams or scraps they may come up against. Since the pods are mostly autonomous, one operator can monitor several vehicles at once. This cuts down on traffic as well as truck emissions as the pods are entirely electric. All operators will be required to have active CDL license B class as well as commercial driving experience.
This is particularly a big deal, as a gig as a Remote Pod Operator would solve a lot of the problems of being a trucker; long hours away from home in a stressful, body wrecking environment. As a Remote Pod Operator, truckers could put in a normal eight hours and go home to their families like anyone else. They could stand up and stretch, like any old officer worker.
“Once other truck drivers are able to see what the remote approach to shipping can do for them, both on a professional and personal level, I’m confident that more and more will want to take part in creating lasting change,” Tiffany Heathcott said in a press release from the company.
The company says the team of pod operators has grown since Heathcott was hired, but it doesn’t say how many people are piloting pods. It is getting a foothold in the U.S., with a regional office in Austin and plans to have a headquarters in New York. So maybe you might see one humming along a city street near you someday. Either way, I think Einride is on to something. Reintroducing the human element into self-driving technology might just be the safest and smartest way to bridge the gap between now and a potentially fully autonomous future.