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Old 09-08-2021, 06:26 PM   #4
Join Date: Apr 2005
Default Re: Things worth having in a Cyberpunk Campaign

Originally Posted by hal View Post
For instance, remote delivery vans.
You're missing a couple of tricks in complete automation of the supply chain.

First, take containerization to the "micro" level. Have micro-containers which can be loaded into mini-containers which can be placed within a standard Conex container.

Make the smaller containers into simple robots so they load/unload themselves without the need for anything other than minimal human supervision.

Making up loads for retail delivery is completely automated. Goods get picked off the shelves at the warehouse by robots, put into micro-container robots, which then receive orders from AI routing them to their next destination. Prior to final delivery they are routed into a mini-container robot or modified Conex container so that they can be dispensed from the delivery vehicle in more or less programmed order.

Since the containers are robots on wheels, they can load or unload themselves via a ramp while the delivery vehicle slows (typically no need to stop). They are light, compact, and tough enough that they can be stacked like ordinary pallets or boxes. Extra weight and complexity associated with the robots is offset by vastly increased efficiency in other aspects of the operation.

Next, have secure customer delivery facilities - either within a secure area of an apartment complex or gated community or at a "retail delivery facility" similar to a modern post office. For everyone's convenience, they are standardized to just a few designs.

Micro-container robots route themselves to secure holding containers within the facility and offload their cargo. Once they arrive, notification is sent to the customer along with a one-time key pad code used to open a particular holding box. Anyone with the right ID to get in the door, plus the right key code, can open the storage box. Sensors within the facility detect threats from fire to radiation. Authoritarian regimes might insist on sensors which detect illegal materials.

Once the door is opened and the goods are removed, the routing AI and the customer are notified. The holding container is inspected, sanitized, etc. and readied for the next container.

Specialized container robots and security boxes can be made airtight, refrigerated, supercold, etc. to handle specialized cargo.

If the customer fails to pick up their goods within a given time they are charged a recurring storage fee. If the default on their storage fee payments, or if the facility's AI determines that the goods are illegal or unfit for sale, cleaning robots clear the contents for recycling or proper disposal.

Pick-up of goods from customers works similarly. A suitable number of micro-container robots are sent to the customer to be filled. The customer packs the goods themselves (within a liner inside the micro-container similar to modern cardboard box). The micro-containers are then picked up or route themselves to the nearest storage facility where they undergo security scanning. Once cleared for transit, customer-loaded micro-containers are collected along with any empty micro-containers, sent back to the main distribution center, and rerouted from there to their destination.

No humans are involved except as warehouse supervisors, robot mechanics, and security guards. Container robots are secure enough to resist most forms of attack and vandalism, and have enough AI to recognize potential problems or threats and call for help.

Delivery vehicles are modular so that they can hold one or more Conex containers or mini-containers. Containers can be rolled on or off the vehicle.

If a vehicle breaks down or is in an accident, its containers can either be rolled over to an empty vehicle or else the mini- or micro-containers transfer themselves to an empty container on the new vehicle. The new vehicle then receives orders from the damaged vehicle or the AI and completes the delivery route.

Realistically, Level 5 autonomous ground vehicles (i.e., as good or better than human drivers) will require the equivalent of true AI plus sensors which equal or exceed human perceptions. Computing and sensor requirements could be greatly reduced by having delivery vehicles travel along dedicated routes isolated from other traffic. These could be repurposed railroad or subway lines, walled off lanes on city streets, or something else.

Many AI navigation problems are easily solved by using aerial drones, but that isn't practical, even at cyberpunk levels of technology, for moving heavy goods or goods on a mass scale. It would require millions of drones to replace modern truck fleets leading to massive airspace congestion and all sorts of other problems.

Routing algorithms would have to be revised "on the fly" by AI or by human supervisors. There no currently-available precise algorithmic solution to the "Traveling Salesman Problem," although brute-force computing can yield results which are pretty close to optimum. Of course, AI and 30+ years of mathematical research might result in a breakthrough.
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