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When Technologies Intersect

  • Jennifer Storelli
May/June 2017

This article is a sidebar to "Drones, Hyperloops, and Automated Trucks Carve Their Distribution Niches."

Although drones, hyperloops, and automated trucks each have the ability to improve the distribution industry on their own, they also can make contributions when combined with each other and other modes of distribution into innovative systems.

Roei Ganzarski, CEO of BoldIQ, a last-mile optimization software company, envisions a delivery system in which hyperloops or automated trucks convey cargo to specific stations or depots and then transfer their loads to drones or even delivery robots to complete the last-mile leg of the journey. Hyperloops will be limited to travel in between hyperloop stations, so this system will rely on other vehicles to move cargo to the final customers, Ganzarski explains.

Although automated trucks could one day be able to pick up cargo from the hyperloop stations and transport it to customers, the size of the vehicles could prevent them from making deliveries in congested, urban environments, he says. “I think one day we’ll see regulations similar to the ones you see in cities in Asia, like Jakarta, [that] restrict the entrance of large vehicles,” he predicts. “When [trucks] have to stop to deliver something, they are blocking roads, they are slowing down traffic, and they have a hard time turning. … These trucks will have to convene at some outside location where the smaller vehicles will … take packages into the city without creating congestion, pollution, traffic, or parking problems.”

To make this system efficient, logistics managers will have to carefully schedule all of the vehicles, he points out. “You’ll want that truck’s or that hyperloop pod’s arrival at the end station to be timed beautifully with that last-mile, driverless vehicle that will pick it up and go,” he says.

Of course, for this vision to become a reality, several infrastructure and regulatory components will need to fall into place first. For now, though, some companies are exploring how to combine these technologies into smaller networks in the near term.

Autonomous drone logistics systems company Matternet partnered with Mercedes-Benz Vans to create an integrated delivery solution for lightweight goods. Last fall, they debuted the Vision Van concept vehicle, which is an electric vehicle equipped with a fully automated cargo management system and Matternet delivery drones.

When the delivery driver stops the Vision Van in a residential area, the technology can scan to see if there are any other lightweight packages that need to be delivered nearby. If one is found, the cargo management system retrieves the package and passes it to the drone on the roof of the van. Matternet technology then guides the drone through approved airspace to make the delivery by air and return to the vehicle.

“This makes the deliverer’s job easier, reduces the delivery time and offers end customers new opportunities such as same-day delivery at an agreed time,” the company said in a statement. Mercedes Benz expects that the Vision Van could boost last-mile efficiency by up to 50 percent.

UPS tested similar technology in Lithia, Florida, in February. The parcel delivery company partnered with Workhorse Group, an Ohio-based battery-electric truck and drone developer, to create a UPS package car with a drone. In UPS’s system, the human driver loads the drone, which autonomously delivers packages to customer homes and returns to the vehicle. The drone has a 30-minute flight time and can carry as much as 10 pounds of cargo.

UPS believes this technology will make its rural deliveries more efficient. “Imagine a triangular delivery route where the stops are miles apart by road,” explained Mark Wallace, UPS senior vice president of global engineering and sustainability, in a statement. “Sending a drone from a package car to make just one of those deliveries can reduce costly miles driven. This is a big step toward bolstering efficiency in our network and reducing our emissions at the same time.”

Innovations like these help the industry to look beyond the potential of an individual vehicle and consider how to coordinate transportation modes to create an efficient delivery ecosystem.  

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