Final Mile Logistics: Droid Technology


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:

Photo by Tim Butler / CC BY

How can you Defend your Digital Supply Chain from Cyber Attacks?

Untitled design.pngSafeguarding warehouses from physical harm remains a constant concern for operators. From burglaries to fire hazards, warehousing requires 24/7 surveillance. However, many are overlooking the threat posed by infiltrators of the digital supply chain; it is integral that cyber security is plotted highly on priority lists. With supply chains becoming increasingly reliant on digital, it is necessary for operations and data to be defended from violation.

Of course, malfunctions in software/hardware can exist, jeopardising systems of all functions and magnitudes. Cyber crime is different. Deliberate attacks occur frequently and can shatter supply chains from the very core. Companies outsourcing IT, storage and/or software are at a higher risk and so vigilance is of utmost importance. Ideally, an organisation develops a combat strategy, placing experts at each stage of the supply chain in order to prevent possibly devastating breaches.

There are a number of ways in which supply chains can be targeted; aside from direct attacks to a company, third party providers are often responsible for allowing infringement. It is vital for companies to take care when selecting their website and software providers, ensuring that they are reliably sourced and sustain a sturdy cyber defence system. Third party website/software providers can be infected without the employing company even knowing. The malware is then shipped to the business who will suffer as a result. It can be impossible to check every piece of software or website update/download made available, especially for smaller companies with limited resources. Therefore, it is important to select reliable third parties who won’t cause harm, whether this is with intent or not.

Sticking with third party providers, it is also important to ensure data stores are carefully selected. If a company sends its data to be housed with a third party company, it is obviously important to be rigorous when carrying out checks on that company. Will they protect pools of data from cyber attack? Can they be trusted to keep data private and confidential? Data many belong to customers, it may also cover intimate business details such as with regards to structure. If you’re contacted by a spam agency then chances are your data was infiltrated and reaped from a data store by a cyber attacker.

Watering hole attacks are also a prime channel for cyber criminals. Watering holes are used by a large number of people in the same field of employment; examples include government interfaces and healthcare bases. The members of these cohorts trust their watering holes fully, moving freely within them and downloading industry-specific content. Plenty of traps can be set up inside these trusted “safe” places, especially when people are downloading potentially spiked content without a second thought. These watering holes can serve to produce thousands of data entries. Much confidential information is stored and attackers are able to get an astronomical amount of data from just one infiltration as this data is often shared as part of one huge network. Such information pools can hold much sought after information, such as valuable government statistics or research conducted by health boards.

What practical measures can you take?

  • When picking your third party providers, make sure you can trust them. Ask them to evidence their security methods to ensure that your supply chain remains safe.
  • Don’t automatically rule out smaller companies. The stakes are high but often small businesses lose out when they are more than capable of managing a full and reliable service. Again, demand proof and complete relevant risk assessments before embarking on a contract.
  • Employ specialists in your organisation to take care of cyber security. If your organisation handles sensitive data or operates complicated systems can you afford to cut corners? Some warehouses are controlled entirely online; these systems can be under threat just as much as data stores. If an attacker wades in and controls your warehouse, the entire supply chain can be devastated. This also puts employees at great risk as autonomy is surrendered.
  • Regularly review your tactics. It is by no means enough to have set up measures years ago and rely on archaic strategy – keep ahead of your attackers! With each third party introduced into the company, however small they might be, a new risk is imposed. Keep on top of all potential portals of entry for criminals.
  • Establish a common communicative understanding with your third party providers. Make sure you have mutual key terms as well as a way to overcome potential language barriers. To maintain a robust cyber security system, everyone along the supply chain needs to be on the same page with a common understanding of terms and processes.
  • Always protect your sensitive data with passwords and store any references to said codes in an encrypted folder. Additionally, consider a two-factor authentication process to access sensitive information. Perhaps a physical object in addition to the digital password could be used in order to heighten security. This system is used, for example, by many online banking systems to log-in to your finances.
  • Change your passwords regularly and carry out cyber security audits at the same rate as you would monitor all other systems in your company. Maintain this vigilant attitude – question everything and don’t assume everything is ok unless it states otherwise.

It is impossible to entirely guarantee the safety of your digital supply chain; nevertheless, taking the above measures can make your business far less susceptible to attack. First and foremost, you need to be proactive and investigative; explore every new connection and act with vigilance across your entire supply chain. Threats will only become more menacing and so it is vital to ensure that you have a comprehensive security structure in place.

To further discuss supply chain security, find us on Twitter or Facebook!

A Brand New Addition to the Apollo Cardiff Fleet

At Apollo Cardiff we are continually expanding and this morning we welcome a new addition to our van fleet! To find out if we can be a more efficient, economical courier service for your business than your current provider, enter your details in our quick quote form. We might be able to save you some time and money!



How is Advanced UAV Technology set to Shape the Future of Logistics? Apollo Cardiff Investigates

Add subtitle text (5) Drone technology: an attractive prospect for futurists. However, concerns voiced by those in opposition leave distribution companies in a quandary. With a proportion developing potentially practical drone solutions in the supply chain, will our skies soon be scattered with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)?  UAV technology is already being utilised (for example, in the military for surveillance), with further prototypes in development. Many believe that the notion of mass drone assisted delivery and collection is vital for the future of logistics. Apollo Cardiff asks whether the integration of advanced UAV technology in the field will become the norm.

The value of UAVs to deliver to remote locations is evident. Landscapes dominated by poor infrastructure and tough terrain have already reaped the rewards of drone technology. Hypothetically, developing communities in remote areas could connect with other villages through UAV networks which could eventually facilitate their inclusion in the wider economy. Suddenly, they are connected. Not only can vital goods be distributed, but information too. As a result, these communities are no longer isolated. They don’t stand alone. Rather, this potential future of logistics sees their communicative range broadened, overcoming many barriers that a lack of suitable infrastructure generates. It certainly wouldn’t be the formula for a complete revolution; however, a stronger economic positioning could be established, moving these communities towards a better supplied future in which they also no longer face communicative isolation.

Theoretically, this sounds like the ideal scenario. Nevertheless, a great number of people argue that it is just that. An idealised notion, which bypasses a long list of issues. As far as UAVs in use on a mass scale in logistics is concerned, these problems fit into two clear categories: Technology based risk and social anxiety.

Let’s first take the potential risks associated with the fundamental UAV technology. There are a number of associated risks with the use of these machines, especially when considering mass scale use in distribution. Many would argue that a choked urban environment could be assisted by drone solutions. The final leg of a delivery could be adopted by a UAV, thus alleviating both inner-city congestion as well as bearing environmental benefits. However, if our airspace is full of thousands of drone devices, how can we be sure of a 100% prevention rate regarding collisions? Airspace, particularly over cities, is already overcrowded. Potential faults in motion sensor technology could lead to drones crashing into each other, buildings, wildlife, and even citizens if such collisions render the drone hurtling towards the ground. Furthermore, colliding with an aircraft could result in hundreds of risked lives. In 2013, a pilot reported the sighting of a drone just 200 feet from his aircraft when making his final approach into JFK International Airport. This triggered further investigation as it could have brought the craft down. Of course, we can only speculate. Even at this point the failure of a UAV is relatively unlikely, but it still remains a real concern in the eyes of many. Human error is removed but the risks of relying on technology remain.

Social anxieties are evident. The word “drone” does seem to connote some sort of dystopia in which humankind is under constant surveillance. Perhaps this originates from the use of UAVs in the military as spy equipment. There are a great number who scrutinise the use of the camera and GPS technology on board. Supporters of advanced UAVs mark such opinion as a social paranoia which is preventing advancements in a potentially widely beneficial and revolutionary technology.

The logistics industry could be completely reshaped, with faster delivery times, even to the most remote locations that wouldn’t otherwise have the infrastructure to accept said goods. However, the anxiety regarding both their use to survey and potentially harm humankind must be treated seriously.

Of course, UAVs used outside of strict regulation have the potential to inflict much harm; however, correctly used by logistics providers, they have the prospect to reshape delivery networks for the better. Currently, regulations vary widely from country to country, firm legislation is predicted to be realised in the next few years, making adoption of the technology both easier for distribution companies and less of a public concern.

Other social apprehension comes from the cost of drone solutions. An estimate in 2013 cited the cost for Amazon, and other companies, to be around $50,000 per machine. However, MIT Technology Review made note of a drone delivery made to Haitian refugee camps. Here, life enabling products were distributed at a rate that was around five times cheaper than the normal truck delivery method. For logistics providers, the value of the goods on board clearly needs to be considered when calculating whether delivery by UAV is of benefit. Clearly, as aforementioned, in the instances of delivery to remote locations, or when providing precious life-saving goods, the advantages remain clear, perhaps regardless of extra costs.

Amazon’s UAV plans have by no means been a secret. Although grounded for the time being, much research into the future of logistics has led to the potentiality of a system by which consumers can make an online order which is delivered within 30 minutes. Amazon claim that this isn’t a future too far away, with CEO Jeff Bezos hinting at a 4-5 year waiting time in order to benefit their most loyal Prime customers. Fellow giant, Google, have recently revealed their UAV plans under the name of Project Wing. After two years of development, this project enables consumers to receive their goods in a matter of minutes. However, much like Amazon, it is years away from completion.

Despite much speculation, advanced UAV technology is racing towards realisation in the logistics field. With Amazon and Google as forerunners in their development, it seems feasible to envisage a future in which the supply chain is heavily influenced by drone solutions. Associated risks are of course prevalent, with much concentration needed on the regulative legislation in order to ensure such technology is born into a secure environment. It has been argued that the hesitation regarding these regulations exists due to mounting social anxiety. It could perhaps be said that social change is progressing at a slower rate than that of one of the technologies set to shape the future of logistics. How do you see the future of drones in distribution? Are UAVs set to disturb the supply chain as we know it? Let us know at Apollo Cardiff. Comment below or tweet us @ApolloCardiff to join the debate!

With thanks to:

Apollo Cardiff Discuss 3D Printing in Manufacturing

3D printing in manufacturing

Arguably, 3D printing is becoming more prevalent as a participant in the logistics industry, with potentially astronomical implications on the supply chain. Clearly, 3D printing is evolving rapidly; analysts predict that over the following four years the industry will be worth more than ten billion dollars.

But to what extent could this development affect the logistics industry as a whole? With its involvement in the supply chain at the primitive stages, will we see a 3D printing in manufacturing revolution in our life time? Apollo Cardiff investigates.

How does the process work?

Charles Hull developed the technology in the 1980s to facilitate the production of basic polymer objects. Plenty of industries, from aerospace to medicine, are now heavily investing in 3D printing.

The process relies on the build-up of incredibly thin layers. A printer computes a digital blueprint of the product and then a slow procedure commences in which material is dropped according to said product design. Despite the slow pace of the print, there is very little setup time. The possible intricacy of this technique has enabled extremely precise levels of detail, unachievable in other methods of product manufacture.

How does it affect the supply chain?

As a manufacturing technique, there are clearly positive and negative aspects which must undergo analysis.

Positive impacts on the supply chain:

  • More local production is facilitated. This minimises the costs of shipping goods around the globe. Furthermore, this is clearly environmentally beneficial.
  • Local production additionally allows customers to receive their orders quickly.
  • When products do need to be transported across long distances, the 3D print process often means said products are lighter. As a result, fuel consumption is reduced, leading to fewer CO2 emissions.
  • It is also environmentally efficient to cut out the delivery and assembly of materials at the initial stage, as it can be manufactured at one specific point.
  • Keeping simply blueprints in digital storage would cut down storage space for manufacturers. This will also reduce the amount of energy needed to maintain a warehouse.
  • Material consumption is lowered due to the fact that the process only uses the materials necessary, there is no excess.
  • Highly complex and detailed structures can be produced, that which cannot be constructed by other manufacturing techniques.

There are, of course, negative implications considered here:

  • What does this mean for those employed at each stage of the supply chain that could no longer exist if this technology becomes normality? Low level assembly workers, for example, become largely redundant.
  • Retraining workers in 3D printing in manufacturing is costly and time consuming. The current design software is incredibly complicated.
  • The current 3D technology is not yet anywhere near fast enough to compete with high-speed manufacturing machinery. In addition, it is also not well versed in a great number of materials.
  • The cost of printing in three dimensions is currently costly, not making practical sense for most manufacturers. 

After assessing the above points, Amazon have recently been investing in 3D printing technology, prototyping the notion of printing products on the customer’s doorstep. The way in which this works is with the use of “mobile manufacturing hubs.” These manufacturing hubs contain 3D printing machines which enable local production literally at the location of delivery.

Amazon argue that this method enables a much faster delivery, which additionally eliminates any potential for damage in transit. Warehouse space is also reduced, benefiting the company and bearing less environmental impact. As a result of these points, customer satisfaction is increased, which is clearly financially advantageous.

So what does this mean for the future of 3D printing?

Overall, we still remain in the very primitive stages of 3D printing in manufacturing. Whereas many see its potential to change product manufacture and therefore the supply chain as a whole, there are responses which suggest we’re not quite ready for the revolution yet.

In its current position, 3D printing is often less cost effective than present technique. However, many of these processes do not allow the same level of customisation, which is becoming increasingly more desirable.

The current impact on distribution is low, but this doesn’t necessary stand for the future of manufacturing. The question remains as to how far away we are from its saturation into the industry. Some argue that we will witness its influence on the supply chain within the decade, with the breakdown of a global supply chain and the initiation of high-tech systems of localised and connected suppliers.

Perhaps the most sensible suggestion is the presence of 3D printing alongside other methods of manufacture. It has clear benefits but it seems impossible to consider a total breakdown of the supply chain, at least at this stage of development.

What do you think? Are we miles away or closer than many suspect? Drop us a comment or a tweet @ApolloCardiff and join the debate! #3Dprinting #ApolloCardiff

With thanks to the following sources:

  • Eureka Magazine
  • Cerasis
  • The Verge
  • The Logistics Business
  • The Guardian
  • Robotics Tomorrow