Could delivery bots answer the last mile conundrum?

The explosion of e-commerce over the last 10 years has turned the transport and logistics world on its head. A growing customer base and next day (even same day!) delivery expectations are revolutionizing how goods are transported from the warehouse to your front door.

Package Delivery

Urban planners, supply chain management and transportation professionals are all grappling with the same question: How can we ensure that citizens receive their goods in time, whilst balancing the congestion and emissions typically associated with the last mile?

Key facts:

  • By 2025, 20% of retail will happen through online channels – Frost & Sullivan
  • Freight transport accounts for 16% of all road vehicle activity in cities, contributing to traffic congestion and poor air quality. The cost of congestion in London was estimated at £5.4bn in 2013, and is estimated to rise to £9bn by 2030 – Transport for London
  • Self-driving vehicles and sidewalk robots could slash last-mile delivery costs in cities by as much as 40 percent – McKinsey

The Greta Factor

Growing social and environmental awareness is driving a change in how services are produced and provided to the consumer. From carbon footprint to social conditions and provenance of goods, citizens are closely scrutinizing their purchasing decisions – and choosing those in line with their values.

Are bots the answer?

Inner cities are THE test bed to trial autonomous delivery bots. Cities such as Berlin and London, which have introduced low-emission zones prohibiting the typical petrol or diesel deliver vehicles from entering inner city areas, are forcing the move to electric and autonomous vehicles. Transport and logistics companies in the B2B and B2C sameday and next day parcel sectors see autonomous delivery bots as the answer to typical last mile challenges such as depot availability and affordability, traffic speeds and kerbside availability.

One of the key considerations is where vehicles can be charged. Those with space to incorporate electric vehicle (EV) charging points will have a competitive advantage. It will certainly become an important factor for landlords wanting to ensure their commercial property portfolio remains attractive and marketable.

Amsterdam and Hannover are leading the way in boosting the number of electric charging points for citizens and commercial use to encourage more sustainable transportation options.

At the same time, ambitious corporate social responsibility goals are putting greater emphasis on logistics firms to meet lower emission targets. As global couriers and retail giants take steps to become more energy efficient, many are turning to EVs for the last mile.

Check out the recent developments by some of Europe’s leading courier providers to combat the last mile conundrum:


  • IKEA plans zero-emission home deliveries in five major cities by 2020. Aims for 100-percent of last-mile deliveries to be by EV in 2025


  • La Poste announced it will trial a new style of electric delivery van from Renault


  • Deutsche Post has an agreement with electric vehicle maker Streetscooters
  • DPD is aiming to have its entire inner-city Hamburg fleet electric by this summer


  • DPD recently opened its third all-electric depot in central London for last-mile delivery
  • Royal Mail is trailing electric three-wheel trikes on delivery routes in three of the UK’s smaller cities during the summer of 2019
  • Transport for London is promising to unlock land for last-mile delivery companies to help operators adapt to the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ)

When autonomous robots hit our streets for real

In August 2019, Starship Technologies raised $40M to expand its robot delivery service. The California based company plans to deploy its robots across selected universities and colleges over the next 24 months, which means there could be upwards of 5,000 robots around these schools by 2021. If successful, this approach could be a turning point and adopted in many sectors, particularly last mile delivery.

Are our streets the problem?

While the infrastructure in the US lends itself to last mile bot delivery, the situation is different in Europe. Streets and sidewalks are typically crowded with cars, cyclists and pedestrians and riddled with potholes and uneven surfaces. The challenge facing urban planners is how to plan and legislate with autonomous vehicles in mind. The pressure on developers is equipping the bots with the sensors to safely navigate these streets. To gain public trust, robots must demonstrate they can safely and unobtrusively share space with pedestrians and become part of the community.

Making the case

Our online economy shows no signs of abating – that means we need to find solutions to meet our ever-increasing demand for instant gratification. At this point, the arguments for electric and autonomous last mile vehicles are compelling. Watch this space!

Nilesh Parmar

UK Chief Entrepreneur Ask me a question
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