Last mile delivery is one of the most difficult, expensive areas of goods transportation. Today we’re taking a look at some of the problems with last mile delivery, and at how Darwin’s research is helping to solve those problems.
Last mile delivery refers to the final journey goods make to the customer, from, for example, a warehouse or fulfilment centre. It’s the last leg of transportation, if not literally the last mile.
The last mile is the least efficient part of a supply chain and can take up a large proportion of total transportation costs.
To some extent, you might expect a loss of efficiency when you reach the stage of delivering to the customer. After all, you could have the parts for a hundred laptops delivered to the point of assembly in only a few shipments. If a hundred different customers each order a laptop, though, you then have to deliver to a hundred different destinations.
Unfortunately, the customer isn’t always willing to wait. Accenture’s interesting 2018 publication ‘How could last mile delivery evolve to sustainably meet customer expectations?’ notes that 27% of US shoppers have backed out of an online order because same-day delivery wasn’t an option.
Accenture’s publication also mentions that ‘Free delivery consistently ranks as the most important delivery consideration for online purchases, with fast delivery coming second’. In other words, although customers want fast delivery, they’re reluctant to pay more for it.
This all adds up to a crucial question: how can we deliver quickly while keeping costs down?
We can’t move everyone on the planet into one house together. The problem of having to deliver to multiple addresses will always exist. So what can Darwin do to make last mile delivery more efficient?
For one thing, we can track a vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions, and we can use the information we gain from tracking to find more fuel-efficient routes. To learn more about this, take a look at our post on reducing CO2 emissions.
We’re also researching ways we can use electric autonomous vehicles to carry out last mile delivery. If goods are delivered by manually driven vehicles, we’re limited in how many deliveries we can make simultaneously by the number of drivers available. Automated last mile delivery wouldn’t have that problem; the only restriction would be the number of vehicles.
Drones have a lot of potential for last mile delivery. Their high battery consumption means they have limited range – a 30-minute flight time is considered impressive for a drone – but we can solve this problem by using autonomous vehicles to bring them into range of the delivery address.
Part of the appeal of drones is that they can make quick deliveries to places that aren’t easily accessed by road. Unfortunately, these inaccessible places often have poor connectivity, making it harder to operate drones. This is part of the reason Darwin’s work to create global connectivity, blending terrestrial and satellite communications, is so important.
Last mile delivery is a tricky area, but the research Darwin is doing will help to make deliveries quicker, simpler and cheaper, benefiting both sellers and consumers.
Darwin Innovation Group is a UK-based company that provides services related to autonomous vehicles and communications. If you’re interested in working with us, take a look at our careers page. If you’d like to know how we can help your organisation make use of autonomous vehicles, contact us. You can also follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.