Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

Last-mile logistics: Our cities are getting smarter

Once firmly in the realm of science-fiction, technological advances mean the concept of a “smart city” is now closer than ever to science-fact.

But, what does the concept mean? And how will it actually affect our day to day lives?

A smart city is a place where absolutely everything is connected and streamlined to work in sync with everything else. 

The marriage between automation and data create an efficient, sustainable economy where the whole metropolis is designed to improve the quality of life for every person living there.

How smart are we now?

Smart technology is already here. Smartphones are more popular than ever and seamlessly connect people to the world around them.

They’re used in place of cards and cash, with many banking services now running directly through smartphones.

Want a taxi? Out comes the smartphone. Fancy a burger? You have restaurants, reviews, and online vouchers at your fingertips.

This expectation of faster, streamlined services is now spreading to more and more aspects of our lives and the expectation of faster services is now ingrained in our consciousness.

To keep up with this trend towards greatly reduced delivery times a variety of technologies are already in development.

Smart cities will demand smarter logistics

It’s during the last-mile of the logistics stream where we are already beginning to see new technologies emerging and trials taking place. The last mile refers to the final stage of the delivery process which gets the ordered goods into the hands of the consumer.

When we place an order online, a lot of us are no longer willing to wait 3-5 days for delivery. In larger cities, it’s now possible to place an order and have your items in your hand within an hour.

This means companies who embrace technology designed to speed up delivery times will be more likely to succeed than those who are slower to adapt.

Two companies that are already embracing the technology are Mindful Chef and Trouva. They spoke in detail about how they are adapting to new trends in this in-depth look at The Future of Last Mile Logistics.

What can we expect to see first?

Currently, the two most likely means of speeding up the last mile of the supply chain are drone deliveries and automated ground vehicles (AGVs). Both of these are already well into testing, with a number of companies already running trials to figure out the plausibility of everyday usage.

Drones are currently expected to be one of the biggest new technologies we’ll start to see buzzing over our heads.

The ones being tested can carry up to 15 kg and take the most direct route from the warehouse to the final destination. They are the first choice for super-fast delivery times because a one-hour delivery slot is easy to achieve if it can literally travel as the crow flies.

However, it’s likely drones will be more common in rural areas – at least for the time being – as within cities there are still literal obstacles to work around.

It’s much more likely we’ll soon begin to see AGVs on our city streets. A few fast food companies have already trialled automated deliveries using small robotic vehicles, and on the whole, these have been a success.

With huge corporations already confident enough in these technologies to invest huge amounts of time and money in them, you can expect to be sharing the streets with AGVs very soon. And don’t be surprised if you’re on the 12th floor of an office building watching delivery drones fly past the window.