A computer-scientist friend of mine opined long ago that the Internet will truly come of age only when he can download a beer. He was referring to the last-meter problem of online shopping: that of getting stuff through the door of an unoccupied house.
Maybe someday robot trucks will push containerized products through cat-flap-style openings in your garage. But why go to the garage when you can have access to the trunk of the car?
That's the solution proffered this week by Volvo. The company's plan for “roam delivery” would have stores deliver groceries straight to your locked car, using a one-time-only public encryption key. The transaction relies on Volvo on Call, an app that helps owners keep track of their cars when they’re away from them. The app tells the store where your car is parked so a courier can fill the trunk with groceries. Or maybe a hot pizza.
Tests went well in Sweden, an extremely orderly country, by all accounts. There are certain sectors of New York City, however, that I wouldn’t advise this app to invade, at least not until sensor-rich cars are able to instantly photograph whoever tries to open their trunks.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.