CES – autonomous hub-and-spoke?

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The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) shone a light on parts of the future of autonomous delivery with autonomous hub-and-spoke being the really newsworthy concept this year. There were vans, delivery robots and final / first metre indoor delivery robots being worthy of note too.

A first / final mile delivery hub-and-spoke system was shown by German company Continental that brought its Continental Urban Mobility Experience (CUbE) system to the CES show. This is a combination of an autonomous van that carries delivery robots to a mini hub site in an urban location. On parking up its delivery robots do the first / final mile runs. It is an autonomous version of the city hub-and-spoke method increasingly being used by major express companies today using human-directed vehicles – a lorry with e-cargo-bikes for example.

Chinese e-retail giant JD.com showcased a similar system using fixed autonomous ‘smart delivery stations’ and delivery robots at CES. Each robot can carry up to 30 packages and operates at a maximum radius of 3.1 miles. Though planned to be fully autonomous it has teams of experts watching the process at present as it is refined. While less mobile than the Continental system, it has the advantage of being used in anger today in two cities in China (Changsha and Hohhot), so in many ways has the jump on the German concept.

There were other delivery robots and vans at the show too. Udelv announced a pilot of its grocery delivery vans being run in partnership with Walmart in the US – the company has around 100 such vehicles running across the Lower 48 that use a Baidu open source AI operating system. Mercedes showed off the Urbanetic people carrier / van chassis that has a capacity for 12 passengers or 353 cubic feet of parcel capacity.

Many large buildings in cities have one or two vans from final mile delivery companies delivering solely to that building. The courier then spends the day walking between floors, delivering and picking up parcels. At CES, Segway showed off the ‘loomo’ delivery robot that could make the courier’s walk redundant. The loomo delivery robot can move autonomously between floors, operating elevators between, and use facial recognition to deliver a package / item to the right person. One can see this, perhaps paired up with a Continental van hub-and-spoke system, reducing personnel requirements in skyscrapers and other large buildings.

Autonomous hub and spoke urban delivery is getting increasing amounts of attention, innovation and investment. We look forward to seeing if carriers are willing to follow JD.com’s lead and deploy these systems.

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