Final Mile Logistics: Droid Technology

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Aside from rigorously discussed delivery technologies such as drones and driverless vehicles, many claim an oversight with regards to droid technology. These delivery robots have recently gathered much interest and perhaps offer an alternative means of final mile delivery during a period of further research and development of more far-fetched logistics.

Last mile delivery has long been an area of discussion for urban transport and logistics planners. With a particular emphasis on London, highly congested areas make for a logistics nightmare. Consignments can travel long distances but spend 80% of their transport time sat on overcrowded roads. This, of course, raises additional environmental issues. UK cities are under pressure to expand and grow. With more and more deliveries piling in, air quality is poor and roads condensed with logistics vehicles only add to the problem.

UK-based Starship believe that their company have the solution. The Starship delivery robot is designed to autonomously drive along pavements to make deliveries from businesses to consumers. Evidently, this removes the middle man from the situation. Unmanned, these machines can take goods directly to customers. It also lessens costs; with an estimated 30-40% of delivery expenses coming from the final mile section of delivery, the adoption of new logistics technologies is vital for businesses to consider.

There are plenty of advantages associated with delivery robots in urban landscapes. As aforementioned, financially they can be enormously worthwhile. Small businesses may especially benefit, rather than paying for vehicles to sit in traffic daily, they can make use of a droid, which is clearly a lot cheaper to run. With UAVs more expensive to buy and potentially less safe due to spinning blades, many businesses would rather invest in something people may be more likely to trust – additional concerns were raised after the recent Heathrow drone collision. Importantly, drone technology relies on much regulation and it seems we’re far from a conclusive outcome. Droids travel on pavements and not roads, clearly simplifying the attainment of regulatory approval.

The Starship brand of delivery robot has already covered more than 3057km in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, and the US and shows no sign of stopping. Practiced on varying terrains, from snow to rain, droids have shown their ability to function successfully against potentially problematic conditions. Using a 3G GPS signal, 9 inbuilt cameras, and numerous sensors, they are programmed to reach their destination successfully without bumping into obstacles along the way.

However, this is something to consider. If the machines are only benefiting urban environments, then the pedestrian population must be taken into account. Clearly, the number of pedestrians in a city like London is dense. In spite of sensors, citizens will still have to keep an eye out for the droids, which operate far below eye-level. In particularly busy areas, it could feasibly take hours for delivery robots to complete their deliveries after negotiating their way around thousands of feet. However, manufacturers have assured that the droids cannot cause damage along their route. They weigh less than 35 pounds and travel slowly, preventing any collision causing real harm.

Aside from concerns regarding pavement travel, the Starship inventors have certainly taken usability into account. The machines are easy to use; customers can take their goods from the central compartment and also easily return any unwanted goods. Safety is also of utmost important – the compartment is locked to keep items safe, with easy access granted at its final destination. The cameras aboard also transmit live video to operators in order to discourage thieves.

The battery life of the delivery robots could be criticised. Currently, the droids can run for just over two hours before needing a recharge. This may be of concern in highly populated areas where delivery will take some time. However, only completing urban missions, the hope is that each delivery can be completed and returned within the two hour time frame. This certainly seems achievable and clearly further future development would lead to expanded battery life if necessary.

With real potential to flourish quicker than UAV and driverless technology, how do you perceive the future of delivery droids? Join the discussion by tweeting @ApolloCardiff!

Thanks to:

www.bloomberg.com

www.timeslive.co.za

Photo by Tim Butler / CC BY