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How Parcel Giants Are Advancing Electric Vehicle and Robotics Usage

UPS and DHL are ramping up investments in electric vehicles and automated technology to meet efficiency, last-mile and environmental demands.

UPS has begun testing the suitability and durability of Gaussin electric vehicles, which also have autonomous driving capability, to move semi-trailers and containers on the grounds of its advanced-technology London Hub, while DHL Supply Chain and Locus Robotics are expanding their partnership to include 10 new, nationwide deployments of the Locus autonomous mobile robots in 2020.

This comes as a new report from Lux Research, “Automating the Last Mile,” predicts that automated last-mile deliveries will generate up to $48.4 billion in revenue by 2030, even though automated deliveries will fulfill just 20 percent of all parcel deliveries.

Lux forecasts that the market for parcel delivery will grow from 107 billion parcels delivered in 2019, generating $350 billion in revenue, to 289 billion parcel deliveries in 2030, generating $665 billion in revenue.

Jim Gehr, president of retail at DHL Supply Chain North America, said the agreement with Locus Robotics further enables the company to bring productivity-enhancing technology to customers quickly, so they are well positioned to capitalize on new and emerging opportunities.

“DHL Supply Chain’s initial implementation of the Locus solution within the life sciences and retail sectors was a tremendous success,” Gehr said. “We saw increases in fulfillment productivity of up to 80 percent in selected customer operations. We now see an opportunity to extend the benefits of utilizing their highly flexible AMR solution at scale for customers across multiple sectors.”

Rick Faulk, CEO of Locus Robotics, said the companies have already identified the sites in question and expect deployment in 2020 to support volume for peak season.

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DHL Supply Chain North America and Locus Robotics partnered in 2017 to pilot a collaborative, autonomous robotics solution–LocusBots–to support associates in piece picking order fulfilment in warehouses. The LocusBots navigate autonomously within warehouses to quickly locate and transport pick items to associates. They can be flexibly deployed to support a diverse range of picking strategies, significantly reducing time spent on routine or physically demanding tasks, reducing manual errors and increasing productivity.

In 2018, DHL Supply Chain announced a multi-year plan to invest $300 million in emerging technologies in its North American operations.  The company has rolled out an accelerated digitalization program that has identified 14 target technologies, seven of which involve collaborative robotics, that can be fast-tracked into customers’ operations.

In the initial phase of its test, UPS will operate the Gaussin vehicles–known in the logistics industry as “shifters”–with drivers in the cabs to evaluate vehicle operations and the efficiencies they generate. Later this year, UPS will progress to the next phase of operation, initiating autonomous driving operations.

“These tests are part of a major UPS effort to integrate electric vehicles throughout our global network. Gaussin’s shifters will help cut our fuel costs and reduce emissions,” Juan Perez, UPS chief information and engineering officer, said. “We’re also eager to test the shifters in autonomous driving mode. This is a great opportunity for us to evaluate technologies on our own property.”

Gaussin electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions and include battery-swap technology that enables the shifters to be operated day and night, as the discharged battery pack is immediately replaced by a fully charged one. Additionally, the vehicles will have numerous cameras, sensors and sophisticated algorithms to improve safety.

“Testing these electric and autonomous-capable shifters is part of UPS’s transformation strategy, which is enabled by technology and innovation,” Carlton Rose, UPS president of global fleet maintenance and engineering, said. “We continue to pursue and deploy the latest vehicle technology that has the potential to enhance our operational efficiency, while taking an evolving approach in implementing autonomous vehicle technologies.”