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Conclusions about ROS and the Future of Last Mile Delivery

Over the last 5 years I have worked for the largest logistics companies worldwide to increase the efficiency of “last mile” delivery with robot technology. We investigated several approaches like “Follow Me” or “Autonomous Packstation”. The last mile is the most expensive part in logistics and these vehicles contribute to a large extent to the pollution of urban areas. At the same time robotics in logistics has shown an enormous potential to go into an actual application.

A large part of our department was unfortunately smashed to pieces although we were centrally responsible for new ideas in efficiency improvement on the last mile. Since ROS can play a central role here, I would like to share with you my ideas on how to increase efficiency in logistics.

There is nothing less inefficient in last-mile delivery than having multiple hubs of different companies in the same urban area. Using the same hubs would reduce the range of vehicles that you need dramatically. By sharing logistics centers it is possible to deliver with small e-bikes and robots because you don’t have to drive 100 km anymore every day.

Several cities in Europe are now trying to implement exactly these shared logistics hubs with different logistics companies: [1] [2] [3]

In order to develop such a logistics center for higher throughput, an open platform for logistics automation that can be used by different companies is essential. ROS and Autoware show in many places how such an organization can look like. Many aspects of such an open platform can already be seen in the ROS ecosystem: Common communication interfaces, common standards, common databases, common data formats and so on…

Unfortunately I could not find partners for this vision, but I am still very sure that whoever is able to provide a free and open platform for the automation of logistics hubs can significantly modernize last mile delivery.

More information about our work at DHL and StreetScooter can be found in this blog post:
https://rosindustrial.org/news/2020/5/11/guest-article-on-the-story-of-the-autonomous-logistics

Because there are a lot of experts in the community for efficiency improvement in logistics I just wanted to ask what you think about this vision. How do you think modern logistics can look like in 10 years?

If you like the post but don’t want to talk about it publicly you can contact me at tobias.augspurger{at}protontypes{dot}eu.

4 Likes

Hello Tobias,

here are my thoughts about the main subject:

Yes, having many logistic hubs, just to cover the same distribution areas, can be seen as a waste of resources. I agree that having one hub to cover smaller areas without overlapping distribution areas is cheaper. But isn’t it that the same principle is true elsewhere. Think of banks, supermarkets, transportation, utilities (supply of electricity, telecommunication). For instance, often grocery chains open their stores next to one another. Wouldn’t it be better if they where equally apart form each other. Also, because of economies of scale, one could argue that, goods could be cheaper if distributed by one big company (again economies of scale) than by many smaller ones. The point I want to make is that, competition has positive effects. Price, output quantity, quality of service, innovation are different in monopolistic and competitive markets.
And then there is the regulatory barrier. A change towards shared logistic hubs would require a bill and associated regulations. Because implementing true shared logistic hubs would effectively prohibit other companies to operate in that market (last mile distribution). My brutally honest take on the subject is that it is not going to happen, at least not on a nationwide basis, not under the assumption of profit maximization, not in a free market economy (meaning not restricting competition). Isolated tests yes, isolated cooperation maybe (two or three logistic companies may agree on sharing a logistic hub to lower costs). However such a cooperation at a larger scale would also require approval by a regulatory agency responsible for overseeing industry competition as even cooperation can be seen as anti-competitive.

Automation in the logistic industry, big yes. Lots of it. Common standards too.
And I do share your enthusiasm for free and open software and I am also passionate about Supply Chain / Logistics. At the moment I am coding/developing in my spare time a small piece of the “robots in logistics” puzzle that I would love to open source in the future but it is still young stuff, not mature yet.

Happy to discuss more on the logistics subject or my personal project in a more private setting if you’d like.

Greetings,

Roberto

Please do not get me wrong, I am a big fan of competition. In the end it’s all about who offers the best product / service with the least resources. But this only works if certain rules are followed:

  1. prevention of monopolies
  2. fair competition also for newcomers and small companies that bring a large part of the innovation
  3. consideration of the “real” consumption of resources and the resulting costs through transparent data bases
  4. free technologies on which even small companies can build without extensive licensing costs

By providing open and free platforms that can be used by everyone, exactly these rules of the game can be better adhered to.

By the way, the principle of a common hub works perfectly for ships, airplanes and trains.There are also companies in the field of telecommunications and energy supply that provide basic hubs and others that offer their services on them.