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What will urban delivery look like in the future?


Our cities are flooded with packages. According to the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), trucks, utility vans and other delivery vehicles take up 30% of street capacity. Their number will only increase, along with the accompanying noise, pollution and traffic. But solutions are popping up just about everywhere to deliver the city from these everyday nuisances.

Home delivery is increasingly popular in the city. Take out, groceries, books and clothing can all be brought directly to your door. The irony is that we all curse the delivery vans that are double-parked at rush hour even as our growing online shopping habits encourage such inconveniences. Cities are exploring solutions to the distribution issue by looking for ways to improve traffic flow and reduce environmental impact.

Reducing delivery-related traffic

In Paris, only low-emissions (“green”) vehicles under 29 sq.m are authorized to deliver merchandise at any time of day. In Strasbourg, diesel delivery vehicles will be banned from the urban center from 2021 and the city aims to achieve 100% green delivery by the following year. The city center will be served by bicycles, tricycles, Colibus electric vehicles and compressed natural gas vehicles. Because last-mile delivery is at the heart of the transportation challenge, some cities are beginning to bring logistics centers back into downtowns. In Paris’ 18th arrondissement, a new kind of neighborhood is emerging in the form of Chapelle International. Designed by SNCF Immobilier, the development will include a 45,000-sq.m logistics center surrounded by housing and public spaces, including city squares.

The invasion of the delivery robots

To address the issues associated with the delivery industry, in May 2018, the French State set up EVRA (Expérimentation du Véhicule Routier Autonome), an autonomous road vehicle testing program that supports a variety of projects, including the development of urban delivery robots. According to consulting firm McKinsey, 80% of deliveries will be made by autonomous means by 2025. The private sector hasn’t wasted any time getting into this booming new industry.

The American start-up, Starship, founded in 2014, makes food and package deliveries using autonomous urban robots. Its six‑wheeled vehicles, which feature a small cargo space, can self-navigate and avoid obstacles. They are already being used on college campuses in California and Washington state. In February, Amazon unveiled Scout, an urban six‑wheeled robot with a cargo space suitable for delivering any type of merchandise. FedEx, which already has partnerships with Pizza Hut and Walmart, is looking to address the last-mile challenge with its own solution, SameDay Bot. This robot can travel at speeds of up to 16 km/h while safely navigating the sidewalk, and can even go up steps using integrated sensors.

Who’s at the door?

Although home grocery delivery via robot is already a reality, obstacles in the street and access to apartments still represent significant stumbling blocks for wheeled robots. Agility Robotics has developed what it sees as the solution, a humanoid delivery robot. Digit, a biped robot who can go up stairs, open doors and carry up to 18 kilos, is set to begin deliveries in 2020. It remains to be seen how the crowd of robots hitting our city streets will impact the sidewalks.

The future of delivery is taking to the skies

Drones offer numerous advantages, including speed, avoidance of traffic jams and access to isolated areas. Over the last two years, Iceland has been testing drone delivery in its capital, Reykjavik, a coastal city made up of inlets and numerous small islands separated by straits. Its geography often requires long detours to get from one side of the city to the other. The drones in use can transport up to 3 kilos in a 10-kilometer radius, reducing delivery times from 25 minutes, by car, to only 4 minutes.

The emergence of crowdshipping

Crowdshipping is a peer-to-peer service that functions on the same principle as BlaBlaCar, with individuals taking advantage of a personal journey to transport packages for others. It takes advantage your half-empty trunk, vacant back seat, bike basket or even a little extra room in your suitcase before a train journey to transport a package for someone. From lightweight, compact parcels to large pieces of furniture, any number of platforms for crowdshipping like Jwebi, Colisbree or Cocolis have come onto the market in France over the last few years. Crowdshipping is a win-win solution that generates significant savings compared to traditional shipping methods.

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