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Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Gatik of California have launched a test pilot fleet of five driverless box trucks that deliver grocery orders for Loblaw’s online PC Express service. These driverless trucks have been cleared to travel on fixed, repetitive, and predictable routes from a Loblaws distribution center to five PC Express locations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Presently, drivers accompany the trucks and can take over if necessary but otherwise are on standby as passengers. Moreover, these driverless trucks represent the first autonomous vehicle technology in Canada. This blog discusses the current state of autonomous vehicles and assesses the potential impact on the retail shopping experience.

What is An Autonomous or Driverless Vehicle?

Autonomous vehicles can operate independently without human involvement. A human passenger is not required to accompany the vehicle at any time or even needed to be present for the journey. An autonomous vehicle can go anywhere conventional automobiles go and do almost anything a human driver can.

How Do Autonomous Vehicles Work?

Autonomous vehicles are equipped with complex software that can simultaneously process various sensory inputs, plot destinations, and then instruct the vehicle’s actuators to engage; these actuators control acceleration, braking, navigation, steering, and other vehicle functions.

The software integrates hard-coded rules, obstacle avoidance algorithms, predictive modeling, and object recognition that allow the vehicle to comply with traffic rules, avoid dangers and navigate obstacles. However, it is essential to note that much of this technology is still in its early development.

The Potential Benefits of Autonomous Vehicles

The potential benefits are difficult to predict, but proponents argue that autonomous vehicles can improve traffic safety, reduce energy consumption and pollution, increase our quality of life, and reduce unemployment for countless people worldwide. For instance, many experts assert that self-driving vehicles can be programmed to be safer than human drivers. Moreover, with AI technology, autonomous vehicles can learn to anticipate traffic situations in ways people cannot.

In addition, an autonomous vehicle will always aim to drive defensively and minimize risk. In contrast, people are more likely to make mistakes and engage in dangerous behaviors such as speeding or reckless driving. Finally, it also merits mentioning that humans are(due to biology) prone to drowsiness, distractions, or impairments; autonomous vehicles are not.

Note: Safer and more efficient delivery vehicles will reduce energy consumption, maintenance, and insurance costs. Businesses will save on transportation costs when this occurs on a large scale. These costs will pass on to consumers in the form of reduced prices.

What will the longer-term benefits be?

As technology develops, autonomous vehicles will become safer and able to take on more driving responsibility in all sectors of society. The advanced computers controlling the vehicles will manage speed and acceleration more efficiently than a human driver. This will allow for better fuel efficiency while reducing the vehicle’s negative impact on the natural environment and energy consumption.

Industry experts also claim that autonomous vehicles will increase mobility for those unable to drive. For instance, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and possibly even children would have increased freedom and independence. Plus, these vehicles will provide them with opportunities they currently do not have because they are remote and inaccessible.

The Potential Disadvantages

Critics have raised several concerns ranging from safety issues to cybersecurity, prohibitive costs, and other dangers. They are not wrong; autonomous vehicles are pushing humankind into uncharted waters. But, the reality is technology will continue to propel society forward in ways that are impossible to predict.


Based on today’s knowledge, the following are some of the potential disadvantages:

  • Employment: drivers may be forced into other occupations as autonomous vehicles become more accessible.
  • Cybersecurity concerns: autonomous vehicles rely on software; therefore, they are open to cybersecurity attacks. Hackers may gain control of the vehicle’s software and affect its operation. Conversely, vehicle owners may attempt to modify the software in dangerous ways.
  • Affordability: Self-driving may be cost-prohibitive and thus inaccessible to most people.
  • Terrorist Threat: terrorists could use self-driving vehicles to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
  • Liability: If an autonomous vehicle causes an accident or injures a person, who is liable (accountable) for the damages?

Here are examples of how retailers will be affected by driverless vehicles:

  • Parking: autonomous vehicles may dramatically reduce the number of parking businesses required to accommodate customers. This could free up significant space currently occupied by parking lots in metropolises worldwide.
  • Increase home delivery: driverless delivery services can operate more efficiently than humans, lowering shipping costs. As a result, average product prices will decrease, leading to happier consumers.
  • Seamless shopping experience: driverless cars will encourage consumers to shop more online. This will increase e-commerce’s share of retail sales from 14% in 2019 to 60% in 2030 (com).
  • Retail specialization: an increase in home delivery will put competitive pressure on retailers to specialize and innovate. For example, product specialization, advertising strategies, location, and service personalization will become critical.

In Summary

The introduction of autonomous vehicles in North America and elsewhere has caused excitement and fear among those who love technology and those who are skeptical. Even so, as of December 2022, there are currently no autonomous vehicles on the market for consumers.

According to Business Insider, Elon Musk promised that autonomous Tesla’s would be coming soon in 2015, and seven years later, they have yet to arrive. Carmakers General Motors and Geely and AV company Mobileye have said people may be able to buy self-driving cars as early as 2024. However, others predict the consumer market will not be accessible until 2030.

While the technology for autonomous vehicles continues to develop, it is crucial to consider the potential benefits and challenges they may bring. The driverless Loblaw truck test pilot is a first step in exploring how these vehicles can impact grocery shopping, but only time will tell what effect they will have on society. What are your thoughts on autonomous cars? Let us know in the comments below.

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