Saturday 22nd Jul 2017 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Who will rule the final mile?

It has come to light that retail giant Amazon has patented what it calls “multi-level fulfilment centres” for drones in urban areas. These beehive shaped buildings would see drones zipping across the sky in densely populated areas.

But, when it comes to alternative final mile methods, autonomous technology on the ground is far more likely to hit our cities in the not too distant future.

There are two particularly exciting projects happening at the moment. One of which is Ocado Technology’s autonomous grocery delivery truck, which the editorial team and I previewed during its live trials in Woolwich. Over a two-week period 100 Ocado customers received their goods via automated trucks designed by Oxbotica.

These trucks, which include an added box for eight individual lockers, are able to understand the difference between when there is going to be a collision and when there is a pedestrian in their pathway.

The other is a similar concept: delivery robots for on-demand orders. The team at Akabo Media were also lucky enough to see how these robots work first-hand when a Starship Technology robot visited our offices as part of its trials for Hermes. The technology is being tested in a number of locations in South London, including: Greenwich, Dulwich, Lewisham and Southwark.

The robots are completely autonomous, navigating via pre-mapped routes, sensors and cameras. While in the trial stages, as is the case for Ocado’s technology, the robots are always accompanied by a human. The robots are monitored from a control centre, but eventually, Starship aims to have one person overlooking 100 of the autonomous delivery vehicles.

When will the technology go live? Konstantin Lassnig, CEO of Austrian-based Arti Robots, says that delivery robots won’t solve all the last mile problems by this year. But is confident the successive launch of prototypes with longer test periods of several months in real-life scenarios will push competition towards real products in the next five years.

So the technology is not quite ready for the market, but the likelihood it will hit our streets in the next few years is becoming increasingly probable. Can the same be said for drone technology, which already prompts questions about safety, air security and noise pollution? It’s not a technical issue that will hinder drones in our cities, but a political and social one.

Guest blog by Alexandra Leonards, senior reporter at Logistics & Supply Chain.

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