08 September 2016

New Robot Freight Transport Technology May Have More Potential Than Drones and Airships  

Road Haulage Home Delivery Firms Might See Drastic Time Savings in the Right Areas

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Shipping News Feature WORLDWIDE – OK. It has to be said that we have in the past taken a slightly cynical view of the potential usefulness of some proposed delivery technologies, drones, airships etc. It may be however that the latest innovation, a partnership between a recent start-up business Starship Technologies and Mercedes Benz, has a little more going for it than some previously mooted methods. ‘Robovans’ are a new addition to the road haulage operators’ armoury of freight delivery methods and one well worth more experimentation.

Up to now delivery vans needed to drive individually to every address on the drivers manifest and ensure safe delivery to the customer. The new concept sees a van, stacked with individual crates of cargo for transfer by the driver to several secure autonomous robot carriers with inbuilt speaker and microphone systems. These then drive to the individual consignees, the only ones who can access the contents, before returning under their own steam to the ‘mothership’ delivery van. Ahti Heinla, CEO of Starship Technologies explains:

“Starship Technologies has solved the last mile problem by introducing sidewalk delivery robots. However, vans are best suited to bring goods to the local area from businesses and distribution centres. When the two transportation methods converge into one, the outcome is the most efficient, cost effective and convenient local delivery method in the world.”

Instead of completing door-to-door delivery, the vans will drive to pre-agreed locations to load and unload goods and then dispatch the robots in the final step for on-demand delivery. Upon making the customer delivery, the robots will autonomously find their way back to the van for re-loading. The robots will be loaded with their goods in the ‘Robovan’ using a racking system which the partners claim enables 400 packages to be delivered every 9-hour shift, compared to 180 packages using previously available methods, an increase of over 120%. Volker Mornhinweg, Head of Mercedes-Benz Vans observed:

“At Mercedes-Benz Vans we are constantly seeking for innovations to improve the efficiency for our customers and actively supporting their businesses. In Starship we found an innovative and creative partner to dramatically improve the way of transportation for the last mile. We see a huge potential for robotic delivery systems in the future by combining our vans and the robots. With this we are able to increase the efficiency of delivery by an order of magnitude. Working together is like having best of both worlds, the power of a leading van manufacturer combined with the agility and spirit of a startup”.

Starship Technologies and Mercedes-Benz Vans entered a cooperation earlier this summer after studying the needs and requirements of their customers, with a view to offer customers flexibility, convenience and control over their deliveries. The Mercedes-Benz Vans partnership follows Starship Technologies’ launch of commercial delivery tests in the UK, Germany and Switzerland last month with partners Just Eat, Hermes, Metro Group, and Swiss Post, offering robotic delivery for the food, grocery and parcel industries. This video explains the process in detail.

Starship Technologies’ delivery robots have now covered over 12,000 kilometres around the world in 12 countries and 47 cities, coming into contact with over 1.2 million people. The company was founded in 2014 by Janus Friis and Ahti Heinla, the co-founders of Skype and Allan Martinson, Starship’s Chief Operating Officer commented:

“A typical van delivery today involves driving to a delivery area, and then spending an entire day on door-to-door deliveries. By leaving the door-to-door part to delivery robots the van drivers’ productivity will significantly rise while reducing congestion on the streets and CO2 emissions.”

There are of course certain problems linked to home deliveries which only a driver can usually solve, leaving a parcel with a neighbour etc. As is our fashion we must of course sound a single cynical note - one assumes the customer knows what is coming and exactly when, otherwise how does a robot open the gate?

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