Robot ‘delivery boys’ will shake up fleet logistics

Up until recently deliveries have tended to arrive at a single location – the buyer's home. However, a combination of shifting customer expectations, more sophisticated telematics and tracking technology is beginning to fundamentally change last mile deliveries, ushering in a new age where goods can be sent direct to the boot of your car and could even one day land in your garden.

One of the early frontrunners in the sector is Volvo, which late last year teamed up with communication and logistics supplier PostNord and to launch the world’s first commercially available in-car delivery service.

The service, baldly dubbed In-car Delivery, is enabled by the company's proprietary on-call platform, a technology that allows users to control cars remotely.  It works by allowing customers to safely and securely hand out a one-time use digital key to a delivery company so that it can deliver online orders directly to the boot of the car before the key ceases to exist.

"The customer has full transparency during the whole delivery-process.  He or she will know when a delivery will be made and will then get a confirmation when the goods have been placed in the car," says Tommy Hansson Strand, director of new business at Volvo.

Following a successful pilot project in Gothenburg, Strand confirms that the service was rolled out commercially across all the major cities in Sweden last November and, although coy about the exact details, reveals that the company plans to expand the scheme internationally on a “step by step” basis, beginning with “four more markets” before end of 2016.

Connect easy delivery

Another car company actively exploring innovative telematics-based delivery is Audi, which last year team up with DHL Parcel and Amazon to develop a novel logistics service closely akin to the Volvo offering.  A pilot project of the service, known as connect easy delivery, ran throughout May last year and allowed participants to temporary authorise keyless access to their car's luggage compartment.

According to Moritz Drechsel, sales and marketing spokesman at Audi, the company is “now in the process of evaluating the data” following the successful conclusion of the test phase, which received “very positive” feedback from participants.

"Based on the findings from the pilot project, we are currently examining various technical options with a view to potentially offering this as a future Audi feature with maximum customer benefit," he adds.

Increased convenience

In Strand's view, there are a number of clear advantages to initiatives like this, including added convenience for customers, as well as added value for distributors through what he claims is a “drastic” reduction in missed home deliveries and mileage.

"The service gives time back to our customers – there's no need to wait at home or travel to a service point to get the parcel delivered," he says.

Even so, he admits that the company still faces challenges in overcoming what he calls “traditional” perceptions that an address needs to be fixed.  He also stresses that efforts to work “across new ecosystems and with multiple partners” requires “new ways of working and trust between all parties”.

"This is a world first service and it is important to recognise that customers will adopt over time and need to feel confident of giving out a digital key to their car.  For us at Volvo, safety is key and therefore we have a fully transparent approach bundled with an insurance from Volvia that insures the goods from delivery until the customers opens the car," he says.

In the future, Strand predicts that we will see “more innovations in areas that make life more convenient for customers, allowing them to spend more quality time with their loved ones, not needing to drive to do pick-ups or deliveries of goods or services”.

"We also think that we will see more services that reduce stress and simplify and automate daily activities in and around the car," he adds.

Meanwhile, speaking about delivery systems more generally, Jeroen Gehlen director pick-up & delivery innovation and optimisation with TNT predicts that, in the future, last mile delivery systems are less likely to rely on separate telematic hardware inside vehicles.  Instead, he argues that such technology will either need to be integrated inside the vehicle itself – as is already the case with Tesla – or accessed via smartphone apps and must be “updated easily and on-line with no manual work”.  For him, the biggest challenges in last mile delivery will relate to the GPS assistance systems needed to help the driver find a customers' front door, as well their location within a building, something he believes will be “more and more important if robots take over”.

"When we have autonomous vehicles, the current issues facing company's and fleet owners are gone. [There will be] no need to monitor bad driver behaviour anymore.  The next three years will definitely be challenging," he adds.

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