Are robots the future of the last mile? Come back in 10 years to find out!

The future of deliveries in a decade’s time has led to many fantastic concepts, with many products and services currently in development as a result. The constant growth in the number of packages delivered each year continues unabated, exceeding 20% on an annualised basis. Will this increase in parcel numbers also bring new technologies and can the significant ecological challenges that it entails be met?

It is relatively easy to predict that delivery volumes and speeds have followed a crazy growth curve over less than a decade. E-commerce is advancing in every single market and the internet can be accessed anywhere in the world via smartphones. On the other hand, the cost of the last mile should fall as increased volumes drive economies of scale and routes are managed more effectively.

 

Which are the major innovations that are currently in a test phase, and will they become routine in very little time?

Robots are at the heart of all discussions on the topic of logistics. They are already present in warehouses belonging to such giants as Amazon and Alibaba – to name but two – but they are also the subject of a great deal of research. How can they generate greater financial returns, and how can they be added to any distribution environment – including retail shops? The other major area of research involves deliveries, with projects such as those of Starship Technologies, with a robot that can deliver within a five-kilometre range and that has already been tested on college campuses in the United States, and Aida, which combines four wheels with the situational ability of “legs” to get over curbs and other urban obstacles, competing with the drones that Amazon was the first to announce to the public, two years ago. Indeed, these drones are already in use with the French Post Office, La Poste. There is another major player in the planet’s largest metropolises, as UberEats demonstrates a little better each day.

In the near future

  • autonomous vehicles – from ground-based vehicles such as the driverless cars that will be ubiquitous in five years’ time,
  • or aerial vehicles such as flying taxis that are currently taking off in a big way –

will be in a position to deliver our meals, medication or anything else that we might order.

 

Peer to Peer delivery another alternative

The process of robotising the delivery industry is a technological one. However, the human aspect represents another vision of the problem, with some of those involved focusing more on our ability to pool our resources. As such, many retailers are testing peer-to-peer distribution, relying on our unwavering sense of solidarity. After all, how does the idea of delivering shopping for our neighbours or workmates differ from car sharing, if at all? Similarly, shared delivery “boxes” in places near our homes would bring our letter boxes back to life after they have been left empty of regular mail. We will soon see a new kind of street furniture flourish, containing boxes to hold our packages, waiting to be picked up with a code or a smartphone. Once we’ve identified ourselves, the box will open up for us – and not for anyone else, after which the box will be available for anyone to use for a new delivery.

 

Of course, cycling and walking are still used by urban denizens and robots won’t do everything in our place. The future is there for the taking: will be the ones delivering its message?

 

 

To discover : The market of the last mile is rapidly evolving