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Robot Delivery: Better Last Mile Logistics

The Internet has profoundly changed our shopping habits. Intelligent delivery vehicles can make shopping more convenient and simultaneously relieve traffic congestion.

Text: Lars Weitbrecht , 07. December, 2017

Lars Weitbrecht originally comes from the music and gaming industry, but in addition to holding a game pad or guitar in his hand, he also enjoys the power of the pen and the feel of the steering wheel.

First, the good news. The number of commuters in London has declined, which is good for the capital of Britain, a city notorious for its air pollution. But with the good comes the bad: despite this decline, the city’s traffic volume has in fact increased, because changing consumer behavior has caused a logistics boom within the city. Next-day, same-day, and even same-hour delivery, as well as online grocery shopping, are now the norm. This has led to an increase in the number of delivery trucks on the road. Since the delivery drivers often double-park (and leave the engine running), the heavily congested London streets get jammed up even more than they already are.

Cleaning up logistics with electromobility

This is a good example of why traffic planners not only need to rethink private car use and public transportation, but delivery logistics as well. It is a good thing that electric vehicles and autonomous driving can also solve many of the problems in this field as well. Particularly the last mile, e.g. the final leg of delivery from a distribution hub to the recipient, offers interesting challenges and space for innovation, as the results of a study on the future conducted by ZF in 2016 show.

The robot always rings twice

For example, the people that are most likely to fill up their shopping cart on Amazon and at other online retailers are also the ones least likely to be home during normal delivery hours. Self-driving delivery robots, under consideration by start-ups and traditional companies alike, could ring the doorbell at the recipient’s desired time – even if the mail carrier had long finished for the day.

Autonomous delivery vehicles can also assist delivery workers and make them more efficient. The German postal service Deutsche Post will conduct an initial trial in this area from 2018 onwards, when it will send a small fleet of electric scooters onto the streets. The plan is for these “Streetscooters” to autonomously complete parts of the route thanks to the AI-capable ZF ProAI control unit, and as a result, take some of the mail carriers’ work off of their hands. The bottom line: when it comes to delivery logistics in the city of the future, highly automated and locally operated emission-free vehicles can both enhance existing processes and even complete some of the work themselves.