ZF Study on the Future Doorstep Delivery 4.0

The digital revolution has hugely raised our expectations of logistics services – while boosting the efficiency of the services themselves. A new ZF study sheds light on the forces at work over the last mile.

The electric delivery vehicle glides almost noiselessly along the street. After all, nobody wants to hear the noisy clatter of a diesel engine at five in the morning. The van’s driver is walking down the sidewalk a few yards ahead, carrying a stack of small packages. He no longer has to climb back into his vehicle and restart the engine between deliveries; now the van follows him instead. His smartwatch emits a tracking signal that tells the van where to go – but also does much more. It opens the van’s cargo hatch, guides the driver to customers’ drop boxes, unlocks them and generates time-stamped delivery reports complete with GPS coordinates.

The last mile

The future of logistics: delivery trucks that automatically follow their drivers down city streets, producing zero local emissions from their electric drives.

This is just one of the scenarios that could soon become reality. The major changes expected over the next 10 to 15 years are the subject of a new ZF study of future developments, produced by the company in collaboration with ETM Verlag in Stuttgart. While previous studies have focused on long-distance trucks and their drivers, this study is all about the movement of goods over the “last mile”.

Professor Uwe Clausen from the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics in Dortmund is the study’s scientific director. “In addition to the increasingly decentralized flexibility associated with ever more autonomous systems, we will also see more and more networking for purposes of integration, global communication, advance planning and resource sharing between companies,” predicts the expert, who worked at Amazon before embarking on his academic career.

The study will show how the complex web of relationships between e-commerce, vehicle technology and connectivity will evolve. Demographic trends, such as the consumption patterns of an ageing population that is nevertheless increasingly prepared to use online delivery services instead of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, will also play a role.

At the same time, this rising demand will inevitably generate higher volumes of delivery traffic. Delivery vehicles take up space, consume energy and produce emissions. To develop appropriate solutions, new types of vehicles – for the most part electrically powered – are required. New trails are already being blazed, clearly pointing toward the further diversification of the various means of transportation, up to and including such concepts as, for example, “cargo bikes” (load-carrying bicycles). Drones could represent another feasible solution for certain specialized applications.

Internet of Things

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Clausen, director of Fraunhofer-Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

Even in the transportation sector, the much-debated Internet of Things (IoT) is steadily gaining traction and already covers many of the links in the supply chain. Capturing and analyzing the resulting information (Big Data) in order to optimize predictions of consumer behavior is one of the key challenges currently facing developers of supply concepts for trade and commerce.

The researchers aim to complete the study by the end of the year. The study will be a valuable tool for politicians and decision-makers in business and the vehicle technology sector; it might even cause them to completely change their ideas.

Picture: Fraunhofer IML

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