How Last-Mile Delivery is Using Technology to Keep Up with Delivery Volume

How Last-Mile Delivery is Using Technology to Keep Up with Delivery Volume

Customer expectations and definitions of last-mile delivery are evolving. As more and more people and businesses switch to purchasing goods online, technology has been instrumental in helping to improve courier services to keep up with demand. In just the last decade, eCommerce sales worldwide have grown sixfold from $572 billion in 2010 to over $3.5 trillion at the end of 2019. COVID-19 has been a catalyst for accelerating the trend. According to McKinsey, ten years' worth of eCommerce growth occurred in just the first few months after the pandemic began.1

According to Gartner's research, 2 of the choices customers made for online purchases during the pandemic will drive and shape shopping behaviors and change the way retailers will need to deliver last-mile fulfillment services. 2 Over one-third of consumers changed their behaviors in several ways. For example, consumers:

·       Bought products they hadn't purchased before

·       Shopped with retailers with whom they had not purchased before

·       Used ordering technology they hadn't used before

·       Changed their usual delivery method to alternatives

The majority of consumers said they would continue these buying patterns for the next 12 months that will be more fragmented across retailers, devices, brands, and fulfillment methods. 2 For example,

·       Of the 36% who had purchased something they don't usually buy or tried a new brand for the first time, 61% of consumers expect to keep buying those items.

·       Of the 36% who purchased via a website or an app they had never used before, 85% say they expect to use websites and apps to purchase the same or more.

Using Technology to Keep Up with Last-Mile Delivery

Competitive differentiation is often dependent on what has become commonplace, such as same and next-day delivery, offering a wide range of convenient delivery windows, accurate estimated time of delivery and efficient and timely communications. These expectations are creating bottlenecks for last-mile delivery. This ever-changing landscape has forced courier and last-mile delivery services to invest in new technology and evolve best practices to meet customer expectations.  This article will look at just a few of the predominant advances helping last-mile delivery companies and services keep up with delivery volume.

GPS Driver Tracking and Delivery Management Software. GPS has transformed the way courier services, drivers, dispatch, fleets, and customers engage, communicate, and provide services. At the center of the GPS driver tracking is The Global Positioning System (GPS), a global navigation satellite system that is a U.S.-owned utility. GPS provides users with positioning, navigation, and timing services. GPS technology is found in thousands of applications that affect every aspect of our lives while boosting productivity in hundreds of industries, including package delivery and logistical supply chain management. You can find GPS technology in everything from cell phones and wristwatches to bulldozers, shipping containers, and ATMs.3 In the courier industry, GPS applications are installed on mobile devices and as trackers inside of vehicles.

GPS vehicle tracking, placed inside the vehicle, does not require a cellular connection. Companies use GPS tracking to collect and monitor information such as driving habits of employees like braking, rapid acceleration, vehicle speed and more for safety purposes.

GPS and delivery management software5 are instrumental in providing location, synchronization, and velocity. The software is easy to download and install on mobile devices but is limited by cellular coverage. The software provides couriers and customers with maps that provide:

·       Visuals of where the driver is at any given time;

·       How far the driver has traveled on their route;

·       Which customers and in which order will get deliveries;

·       How long the driver will be before a specific delivery.

In addition, fleets can access robust features like route optimization, route monitoring tools and real-time updates for couriers, dispatchers and customers. Drivers can optimize their routes for the day with algorithms that consider whether a delivery needs regular or ASAP delivery, the average time to complete a delivery, traffic conditions, and delivery windows for specific parcels. For example, routing systems can notify drivers/dispatch of traffic congestion that will delay drivers and warrant rerouting. The system will automatically recalculate the route and communicate the route to the driver in real-time. The goal is to make fleets more efficient and communicate ETAs with the consumer increasingly focused on a better delivery experience when selecting an eCommerce or online retail vendor.7 Drivers can view orders, customer details, special instructions in real-time speeding order fulfillment, lowering costs, and meeting customer expectations. See the Honeywell / Fareye Solution below for more information.

Advancement in Online Services. Online services are among the leading advancements affecting the courier service.  Customers have 24/7 access to order, make payments, book courier delivery and pickup times online, selecting packaging and more. Customers can do accomplish almost all their needs online without the need to speak to someone directly. These systems are robust and provide automated texts and email follow-ups to customers, client chat capabilities, reporting stats and analytics.

Light Cargo Delivery Drones. Light cargo delivery drones are flying; autonomous vehicles deliver small packages such as food, medical supplies, and similar sized goods. Autonomy can be supplemented with remote operation. Many high-profile companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and JD.com have invested in developing delivery drones.5

The use of unmanned drones for commercial package deliveries provides several advantages. One significant advantage is speed. Because drones are not inhibited/constrained by road infrastructure and congestion, they can deliver packages faster than cars or trucks from a nearby store location. Drones can transverse terrain such as mountains, jungle, water with ease and take a more direct/shorter route to deliver a package. Drones have been touted for their reduced environmental impact.

While drones will be limited to predetermined package size and distance, the market potential is high. It is estimated that 20 percent of Amazon's eCommerce orders meet the criteria of drone delivery. Retailer Walmart has locations within 5 miles of 70 percent of the U.S. population, creating real opportunities for drone delivery.6

One example of drone deliveries is the operation of Zipline, which has been flying robotic medical delivery missions in Eastern and Central Africa since 2016. The company is currently running the largest automated delivery service dispatching flights about every 4 minutes. To date, the company has delivered more than 200,000 medical products to thousands of health facilities serving more than 20 million people. The delivered product ranges from blood products and antivenom serums for snake bites to antibiotics and prescription medication. One operator, using monitoring software, can manage/watch over a fleet of 24 drones.7

In the U.S., drone testing is underway for companies like Krogers and Walmart are actively testing drones. Walmart's trials will take place near their headquarters in northwest Arkansas. Plans are to operate the drones in a 50-mile radius of any Walmart store, which is equal to the entire state of Connecticut for any given store. 7 The future of delivery drones is still dependent upon clearing regulatory hurdles and more testing. 1

Delivery Robots and Remote Guided Vehicles. Unlike delivery drones, delivery robots are designed to travel on pedestrians and lanes at low speeds of about 4 miles per hour. Delivery robots have been targeted for relatively affluent and uncrowded suburban areas, gated communities, assisted-living facilities and campuses. The robots can travel on sidewalks or bike lanes and are programmed to travel among pedestrians, bicyclists and cars.

Robots are designed to travel short distances from a local hub or retail outlet to a receiver within 5 to 30 minutes using GPS, sensors, and cameras for navigation, easily maneuvering between obstacles and pedestrians along its path.6 The robot can return to the hub after every delivery or carry multiple deliveries in separately locked compartments.  The advantages of robots like drones include speedy delivery, low environmental impact. Robots have higher weight shipping capacity and can make multiple deliveries.

Companies like Nuro and Starship use bots to make deliveries in Sacramento and Moutain View, California, Milton Keynes in the U.K. and other locations.

Driverless/Autonomous Cars. Autonomous cars or vehicles capable of sensing and navigating their environments without human intervention are critical modes of transportation. Google is well down the road of making autonomous cars a reality. All of the major automakers, including Tesla, Volvo, Honda, General Motors and others, have unveiled autonomous functionalities into their vehicles with plans to test their autonomous cars and vehicles. Self-driving cars use multiple innovations. For example, light detection and ranging (LIDAR devices, cameras, radars and sensors provide a 360-degree view of the surrounding environment.  Access to geolocation information and detailed maps help the vehicle know where it is. The software takes all the information inputs to guide the vehicle safely.

The predicted benefits of autonomous vehicles include safer driving and a reduction in accidents. When used for delivery, driverless vehicles are not constrained by driver fatigue. They could provide fast delivery service and operate for longer hours, providing greater flexibility in delivery times. These vehicles are well suited for dense urban environments and can easily be used for deliveries to remote areas.6

Honeywell Innovation Helping to Shape Last-Mile Delivery

As eCommerce grows, delivery services know full well that their share of the competitive landscape depends on their ability to fulfill customer expectations in areas of same- and next-day delivery, offering a wide range of convenient delivery windows, accurate estimated time of delivery and efficient and timely communications. Honeywell understands last-mile delivery and the importance of having tools, technology, and software to compete and perform at or above customer expectations. The following are just a few ways Honeywell technology and innovation are helping to shape last-mile delivery.

Supply Chain Suite of Software. Honeywell has released a suite of enhanced supply chain software featuring digital disruptors to provide a powerful solution to help enterprises achieve their need for increased efficiencies and deliver better customer experiences. The suite includes Fareye, Honeywell Operational Intelligence, and Honeywell Smart Talk.

·       FarEye. Honeywell has partnered with FarEye, a robust predictive logistics SaaS platform. Honeywell's partnership with FarEye provides a single delivery management solution powered by Honeywell mobile computers and FarEye's intelligent delivery management platform. The partnership empowers enterprises to have complete visibility of goods while transitioning from the manufacturing facility right through to the final destination with seamless integration with multiple data sources across the supply chain.

This means businesses can manage, track, and monitor their delivery operations anytime, anywhere, with real-time visibility to optimize the movement of goods from the first mile to the last mile, improve operations performance in real-time, and deliver a customer-centric experience.

·       Honeywell's Operational Intelligence. Operational Intelligence is a centralized, cloud-based platform to manage the complete lifecycle, operational visibility and performance information of assets, people and tasks. It bridges the productivity gap commonly missed by asset management or mobile device management solutions. The software platform enables workers and enterprises to predict upcoming problems before they happen and gain critical business insights. The software now has a Smart Actions feature, alerting workers on how to resolve and address business issues – be it hardware issues or ensuring social distancing guidelines are being met – when they happen. Honeywell Operational Intelligence is the sum of what our customers told us they needed for a robust solution to manage their mobile device fleet's operational lifecycle's productivity.

·       Honeywell Smart Talk. This is a unified workforce communications solution that tackles fragmented communications, with enterprise-grade security for voice calls, text and media messaging, and user presence – all from one device. Honeywell Smart Talk connects you to your existing phone system. Using your existing network and contact list, workers can make and receive high-quality voice-over I.P. (VoIP) calls over a Wi-Fi or cellular data network connection, ensuring you the best call quality whether speaking with a customer or an employee. Honeywell Smart Talk clients are trusted, secure applications that act as an extension to your locally hosted or cloud-based PBX. It's the perfect solution for small or large enterprises battling the growing demands of a Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) and mobile workforce.

The suite is installed on Honeywell mobile computers such as the Mobility Edge platform ruggedized mobile computers.

Industry Leading Mobile Computers. Honeywell mobile computers are based on the Mobility Edge platform. Honeywell Mobility Edge is a leader in Android version support, providing the best available security, features, and lifecycle duration of any ruggedized device in the world. Honeywell is deeply committed to the longevity and quality of the Mobility Edge platform.

Last-mile service providers can deploy Honeywell's ruggedized mobile computers, which can be pre-loaded with the track-and-trace software. Users of the devices can scan product labels, access tracking information and document the movement of goods at every stage. The following products are built on the Mobility Edge platform: Honeywell CT40, CT40XP, CT60, CT60XP, CN80, CN80G, CK65, RT10A, and Thor™ VM1A, and VM3A.

Compact OEM 2D Barcodes Compact Scan Engines. Honeywell has an extensive portfolio of Compact 2D Barcode Scan Engines and Barcode Scan Modules. These optical scan engines are found throughout the world in many use cases and applications such as drones and robots throughout the supply chain. With decades of experience in scanning and decoding, Honeywell's portfolio and engineering expertise help design engineers solve their technical and performance challenges and select the right offering for their specific scanning application


Honeywell Productivity Solutions and Services develops and deploys an innovative range of solutions, software and services that help keep people healthy, workers and workplaces safer and more productive, and supply chains and assets more efficient, accurate and reliable. For more information, visit sps.honeywell.com or Contact a Honeywell Solutions Expert today! Call 1-800-934-3163.

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1Efficient and sustainable last-mile logistics: Lessons from Japan
2Dead Ends, Diversions and New Directions: How Retail's Last Mile Needs to Adapt to a Post-COVID World, 2020, By Analysts Tom Enright,  Published 20 August 2020
3GPS Applications
4Technology and Courier Services Industry Trends
5Hype Cycle for Supply Chain Execution Technologies, 2020, By Analysts Dwight Klappich, Published 7 July 2020
6Technological Disruption and Innovation in Last-Mile Delivery
7Walmart expands drone delivery testing with Zipline partnership
8 What Will Last Mile Delivery Look Like Post-Coronavirus?