future view

On the way to self-organising logistics

16 December 2019 • 3 min reading time

A year and a half ago TNO started the SOLiD project in collaboration with Prime Vision and others. Its aim: to explore the possibilities of self-organising logistics. The various experiments with decentralised control of parcel post, among other things, have been promising. A dramatic change in logistics in the Netherlands is forecast in the future and, moreover, it will be organised by demand.

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Would you like to know more about TNO's research or about the possibilities within the Living Labs? Please contact Hans Quak.

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Thanks to improved technologies, in the short term the well-known driver with his parcel post delivery van will be able to work more efficiently. In the long run, logistics networks can become more adaptive as packages will be able to make decisions autonomously.

Self-selected delivery moment

Hans Quak of TNO: "The idea behind SOLiD is that we give a glimpse into what is already possible if you manage your logistics differently and what else is possible in the future. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, consumers' wishes are becoming increasingly specific. For example, they want their parcels to be delivered at the time of their choosing. And secondly, more and more is becoming possible through technological innovations.”

Today, consumers have virtually no control over the delivery of their parcels. They place their orders on the Internet and are then completely dependent on the centrally organised delivery service, which determines the day and time on which the parcel is delivered. This will change as the delivery process becomes increasingly automated.

"At some point, a parcel will be able to steer itself completely autonomously and be transported in unmanned robotic cars."

In the future, parcels will be labelled with a smart tag containing a variety of information that makes it clear where the parcel has to go, on which van it has to be loaded and also at what time it can be delivered to the consumer. At first, this will be done with the help of people - usually the driver, who now also loads his van himself to know what is where so that the cargo can be unloaded in a logical way - but at some point, the smart tag will allow the parcel to steer itself completely autonomously and also to be transported in unmanned robotic cars. 

Decentralised system

There are several important sorting and decision moments throughout the delivery process, with which TNO and Prime Vision are now experimenting in collaboration in Living Labs. TNO provides the scientific expertise and long-term vision. Prime Vision focuses more hands-on on the practical operational aspects of the delivery process. This company started out as a research centre of PTT and is now a developer of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which reads addresses on packets.

Bernd van Dijk of Prime Vision: "Together with TNO we started thinking about the consequences of making the delivery flexible. So we started experimenting with a demand-oriented, decentralised system. The more flexible the demand, the more decision and action moments there are in the delivery process. Every step in the process must be carefully considered in order to ensure that the delivery runs smoothly and efficiently.”

"Smart tags will soon become so cheap that they will be used by default in parcel delivery."

In the labs, various tests are carried out with these self-steering packages. They're promising. Van Dijk: "Although this smart tag is still too expensive for large-scale use, I expect it to become so cheap in the foreseeable future that it will be used by default in parcel delivery. The introduction of the smart tag with information about individual delivery requirements and transport options will really bring about a major change for the transport and forwarding industry, and for society as a whole. It's going to give us a lot of new opportunities.”

Opportunities

Consumers can then, for example, indicate for each package which conditions must be met, for example about the time of delivery, the speed of delivery, the costs and the sustainability requirements. Delivery will be more demand-driven and therefore much more flexible. Quak: "25 years ago, we didn't think possible all the things we can do with our smartphones. In 25 years' time, thanks to ongoing technological innovation, it is not inconceivable that our fridge will let us know when we are running out of milk, ordering it automatically and having it delivered at a time when someone is at home.” 

These changes are expected to come in small steps. There's a lot we can do. It is already technically possible to have robots sort parcels, for example. But the capacity is still limited. In addition, it takes time to adapt the infrastructure throughout the industry. TNO and Prime Vision see a role for themselves in this. Quak: "We try to inspire players in the logistics industry to employ a vision of the future at the same time when solving problems in the present.”

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