#364 Autonomous Food Delivery Impacts on Traffic and Sustainability

Principal Investigator
Destenie Nock
Start Date
July 1, 2021
End Date
June 30, 2022
Research Type
Grant Type
Grant Program
FAST Act - Mobility National (2016 - 2022)
Grant Cycle
2021 Mobility UTC


Civil infrastructure systems (e.g. transportation, power and buildings) are the backbone of our society, providing the basic public services needed by the communities they serve, and playing a critical role in the distribution of material goods, services, energy and people. Due to their public-serving nature, long-term design horizon and predominantly public ownership, we have been learning to engineer these systems to be long-lasting and resilient to many natural events. However, recent changes in both the natural hazards and the demand patterns (the human needs and behaviors) that they are subject to, require that we rethink our strategies to engineer these systems. Requirements around resource allocation, especially, such as last-mile food delivery and dispatching accessible mobility services have completely altered the way we operate and manage civil infrastructure systems and corresponding services.    
Autonomous food delivery will make cities more livable and equitable  Autonomous vehicles (AVs) can improve access to nutritious foods and eliminate food deserts.  We will develop food delivery demand model(s) and use systems transportation modeling approaches to quantify how autonomous food delivery could affect peak hour traffic operations, and determine delivery alternatives that are most sustainable.  Develop a relationship with Giant Eagle (local grocery store) and EasyMile (company designing automated food delivery vehicles).    
July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022    
Deployment Plan
We are proposing a radical change to the way that people source and acquire their food. Given the magnitude of the food delivery market, and the importance of food to everyone, there is a tremendous opportunity for innovation in food delivery. This is bolstered by the significant number of new businesses providing food delivery, and the rapid adoption of food delivery by established retailers (e.g. Walmart, Target). It also means that there will be many potential industry partners in this space, several of which we have already engaged (Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh Food Bank, 412 Food Rescue, EasyMile). This innovation needs to be done is a way that is both sustainable and equitable. We will consider opportunities for patentable, licensable technologies that can result for our analysis, e.g. ML tools to predict delivery demand by community or zip code, and will assess opportunities for startups that can provide this service to communities, local governments, and industries looking to use AVs for food delivery.
Expected Accomplishments and Metrics
This project will assist society in moving towards equitable and sustainable automated food delivery systems. Following COVID there has been a surge in the number of people using online food delivery services in lieu of going to the grocery store. Autonomous vehicles are one method of meeting the increase in food delivery demand, but currently there is no method for ensuring this is done sustainability and equitably (relative to grocery shopping trips). Develop a tool that estimates the congestion and energy implications of replacing household grocery trips with autonomous grocery delivery services.  Estimate number of household grocery trips and develop a framework for replacing these trips with autonomous food delivery. Perform scenario and sensitivity analysis for autonomous food delivery services.

Individuals Involved

Email Name Affiliation Role Position
mbartman@cmu.edu Bartman, Matthew Carnegie Mellon School of Engineering Other Other
sbenicky@andrew.cmu.edu Benicky, Sheryl CIT ERA Other Other
marioberges@cmu.edu Berges, Mario CEE Other Faculty - Tenured
cdharper@andrew.cmu.edu Harper, Corey Carnegie Mellon University Other Other
glowry@andrew.cmu.edu Lowry, Greg CEE Co-PI Faculty - Tenured
dnock@andrew.cmu.edu Nock, Destenie Heinz Foundation Block Center Grant PI Other


Amount of UTC Funds Awarded
Total Project Budget (from all funding sources)


Type Name Uploaded
Presentation UTC_Research_Nock_et_al_2021.pptx Sept. 29, 2021, 10:59 a.m.
Data Management Plan Data_Management_Plan_4SkUwzo.pdf March 17, 2021, 8:59 a.m.
Presentation Autonomous Food Delivery Impacts on Traffic and Sustainability Sept. 29, 2021, 10:59 a.m.
Progress Report 364_Progress_Report_2021-09-30 Sept. 29, 2021, 11 a.m.
Presentation Autonomous Food Delivery Impacts on Traffic and Sustainability March 28, 2022, 7 p.m.
Presentation COVID Impacts on Transportation: Buses and Food Delivery March 28, 2022, 7 p.m.
Progress Report 364_Progress_Report_2022-03-30 March 28, 2022, 7:01 p.m.
Final Report 364_-_Final_Report.pdf July 29, 2022, 7:17 a.m.

Match Sources

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Name Type
Easy Mile Deployment Partner Deployment Partner
Giant Eagle Deployment Partner Deployment Partner
Puget Sound Regional Council Deployment Partner Deployment Partner