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Electric Avenue

Going Postal: Volkswagen's Autonomous Mail Van Follows Mail Carriers

Is this the solution the U.S. Postal Service needs to reach solvency? Probably not, but German mail carriers will soon have a faithful truck that stays close by, without anyone in the driver’s seat.

Going Postal: Volkswagen's Autonomous Mail Van Follows Mail Carriers

The U.S. Postal Service may be hemorrhaging cash, but that doesn’t mean mail (and package) delivery is going anywhere in the near future. Almost as if to prove that mail service is still relevant, Volkswagen recently teamed up with the German Mail Service to unveil the eT!, a concept for an electric, semi-autonomous delivery van that is optimized for the urban postal environment.

Electric delivery trucks are already beyond the concept stage. UPS, for example, recently announced a plan to buy 100 electric vans from Electric Vehicles International.

But as far as we know, this is the first delivery vehicle that can follow the delivery person as he walks from house to house and drive over on demand (these modes are called "come to me" and "follow me"). This seems like it would be incredibly dangerous, however, until the technology is perfected. Just one wrong move, and the delivery truck could injure the mail carrier, or that pesky dog on the route.

If the driver is wary of having a truck follow them around, the vehicle can also be controlled via a joystick in the passenger’s seat. According to Volkswagen, "This makes unnecessary walking movements around the vehicle a thing of the past." Unnecessary walking movements are not what’s hurting global postal services, but the eT! could help boost productivity.

No word on if the eT! will ever go into development, but it’s not as far-fetched as it seems. Last year, we took a spin in a Volkswagen that can drive around and park itself. It’s not ready for commercial production just yet. The technology, however, is very real—just ask Google.