Friedrichshafen/Hanover. E-mobility, delivery robots and autonomous driving: The ZF study on the future 2016 casts a light on current developments regarding the "last mile" of the delivery process to the customer and presents forecasts for the next ten years. The study partners presented the initial results at the IAA conference "Urban Logistics of the Future." Going forward, autonomous driving will play an ever-increasing role during the last mile. Various social and infrastructure requirements must, however, be firstly fulfilled.
The parcel delivery sector is growing at great speed. In 2015, more than 2.9 billion parcels were sent in Germany alone – one billion more than in 2005. This trend is expected to continue over the coming ten years. More and more customers are purchasing goods online, and with convenience orders and same-day delivery now available, consumers expect their goods to be delivered to their doorsteps in just a few hours – fresh and chilled. And there's more to come: Driving bans, low emission zones and the desire to reduce traffic noise mean that new delivery options are necessary. These requirements come into play during the "last mile," the last step in the delivery process to the customer. This year's ZF Study on the Future, commissioned by ZF and carried out by the Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics (IML) in Dortmund in cooperation with the ETM publishing house in Stuttgart, focuses on these final few meters of the delivery process. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Uwe Clausen, head of the IML, is in charge of the study. The study does not only focus on urban areas but also on the differences between urban and rural infrastructure and on the effects of demographic change.
The study examines the future relevance of seven different trends for the last mile. In detail, the researchers focused on 3D printing/local value creation, autonomous driving, e-mobility, digitization, the Internet of Things, transport drones and delivery robots. At the expert conference "Urban Logistics of the Future," which was held as part of the IAA Commercial Vehicles show, Uwe Clausen presented some initial study results. "We cannot, of course, predict precisely what the delivery process will look like in ten years – but these technologies are providing important impetus," Clausen explained. "However, not all of them are equally important. We can expect that e-mobility, for instance, will play a more important role than 3D printing or transport drones."
The study has identified autonomous driving as a decisive trend which is also reflected in the significant attention surrounding this topic at IAA. Autonomous vehicles could reduce driver stress and compensate for the lack of skilled workers. One advantage is that considerable progress has been made in this area. Driver assistance systems and semi-autonomous driving technologies are already well established and a few autonomous vehicles have already been tested on the road. "The development of autonomous driving is at a fascinating stage," said Clausen. "The basic technologies are already available. The question, however, is whether the infrastructure and the logistics economy are prepared." According to Clausen, there are, for instance, pending safety issues: How can we ensure that an automated vehicle detects a construction site which is not properly signposted or is not confused by incorrect lane markings? This is a key factor for autonomous delivery trucks to achieve social acceptance and offer economic advantages.