“Brown” lumbers around my suburban neighborhood at least once a day, stopping to drop packages at doorsteps before roaring off for the next delivery.
It’s a task repeated millions of times daily, according to United Parcel Service, whose brown-suited drivers ply the roads in brown step-vans making commercial and residential deliveries.
If I were one of those drivers, though, would I be wondering if my days were numbered?
Technological advances decimate or eliminate occupations all the time: think Thruway toll-takers, gas station attendants, switchboard operators, door-to-door salesmen, movie house projectionists. Drones might do the same someday to delivery drivers.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos made the futuristic seem everyday last fall when he announced an interest in having small drones — technically known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs — deliver packages from his online store.
The idea is new, so rules don’t yet exist on the commercial use of airspace by UAVs, although there are regulations to govern hobbyists. Privacy advocates worry that with all those drone flying around — commercial and recreational — we also should develop regulations to protect citizens from UAVs that might rather snoop than deliver.
By the end of the year, the Federal Aviation Administration expects to propose rules for commercial drones; it’s under a September 2015 deadline from Congress to open the skies to more UAVs. (A trade group for the industry estimates billions of dollars in new economic activity once the drone regulations are in place.)
Despite the lack of rules, the innovators keep innovating. Google unveiled a drone project last month that it has been testing secretly in Australia, far from FAA reach. In July, Amazon asked the government for permission to test delivery drones in the skies above its campus in Seattle.
In Ohio, the University of Cincinnati and a truck-chassis maker are working on a project that pairs a drone with an electric truck to see whether efficiency and capacity can be increased if the truck delivers along a main route and the UAV handles the tangential drops.
Meanwhile, the heads of United Parcel Service and FedEx say their companies have been conducting their own experiments with drones. The CEO of UPS told a hometown Atlanta civic group over the summer that it’s more a question of when, not if, UAVs will be used to deliver packages.
Which brings us back to the “Brown” drivers making their rounds today: Do they have a future?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which periodically releases 10-year projections on job gains and losses, doesn’t list delivery drivers among the latest crop of occupations for which demand is waning.
The jobs listing/advice website CareerCast, crunching the BLS data, put these as the Top 10 most “endangered” jobs through 2022: mail carrier, farmer, meter reader, travel agent, lumberjack, flight attendant, drill-press operator, printing worker, tax examiner/collector.
Oh, yes, and newspaper reporter. Gulp!