Technology and logistics companies are going the extra mile to solve delivery woes
Same day delivery is all well and good if couriers can accurately locate your home. If you live in a 10th floor flat, for example, or in the middle of nowhere, there are a host of challenges that delivery drivers have to contend with. Couriers often leave parcels outside houses, with neighbours, or fail to make deliveries at all. Remove the human from the equation, and the difficulties become even more pronounced. An autonomous delivery van, for example, can’t run up six flights of stairs.
The success of automated delivery services rests largely on robust, last mile technology. So which companies are leading the pack in package delivery, and how?
MailHaven was founded by Kela Ivonye after a missed international delivery cost him hundreds of dollars to solve. The company’s smart, IoT connected lockers integrate with a mobile app that notifies users when their delivery has arrived. In 2017, MailHaven graduated from the world renowned 500 Startups programme.
As well as protecting and tracking packages, smart lockers also reduce resource expenditure for couriers and companies. Even when intended recipients are home, it can take a few minutes before they open the door and accept the package. Removing a few minutes from each delivery saves an enormous amount of time. That said, smart lockers still require customers to physically go to collection points… But when it comes to valuable or fragile orders, perhaps it’s worth the extra effort.
Starship was set up in 2014 by the founders of Skype as a solution for local deliveries. Starship’s autonomous robots deliver items within a radius of two miles, moving at walking pace. Customers request items via Starship’s mobile app which sends the bot on its way. The robot picks up the item and brings it directly to the user, taking between five and 30 minutes to arrive. The robots’ journey is monitored through the app so customers can see when their delivery will arrive.
According to a 2016 McKinsey study, autonomous vehicles including drones could account for 80 per cent of all customer deliveries over the next 10 years. From a sustainability perspective, this is just as well: courier vans, trucks, and lorries are a major source of global emissions.
Estonian company Cleveron has developed an autonomous vehicle for last mile delivery called Lotte. The self driving delivery ‘car’, which is around the same size as a go kart, was unveiled at the 2018 Robotex International conference. Lotte’s goal is to save time for everyone – the company, the courier, and the customer.
Lotte is fitted with robotic arms that select parcels and place them into pickup lockers. At the moment, customers have to travel to the lockers to get their deliveries. However, the company’s next step will be placing packages directly into mailboxes.
4) Unsupervised AI
If the name Unsupervised AI doesn’t make you slightly uneasy, then their dog-like delivery bot might. Aida is an autonomous, quadruped machine that trots along the pavement, navigating around obstacles and up and down steps. Aida was taught to walk using deep reinforcement learning techniques, and uses a suite of sensors to recognise obstructions. The robot’s four ‘feet’ can be replaced with wheels for longer journeys.
Aida might look like a member of the Boston Dynamics family, but Unsupervised AI is adamant that the robot will be affordable. The company is now offering pilots for potential partners.
Amazon isn’t the only company headed in the direction of drones. At the beginning of the year, Israeli drone company Flytrex received $7.5m in series B funding to develop their fleet of on demand delivery drones. The drones are connected to the cloud and controlled by an online dashboard called the Flytrex Control Centre. The centre provides route management, flight reports, and pre-flight checks.
There are numerous barriers to drone adoption which need to be cleared before drones can be relied upon to deliver important packages. However, Flytrex points to a future in which smaller retailers offer super fast, straight-to-your-door delivery options to compete with the likes of Amazon.
It’s not as simple as A to B
Traditional and autonomous delivery services are becoming faster and more accurate, but they will continue to struggle without a reliable answer to the last mile question. While there are some interesting developments in the pipeline, last mile technology is largely confined to testing. For now, the most developed option is pickup lockers. It will be interesting to see which technology will win the last mile delivery race – bots, or drones?
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