Photo credits @ Technische Universitat Braunschweig

New last-mile delivery system uses cooperating self-driving robots

A consortium of European researchers has unveiled a new autonomous logistics system designed for a more sustainable approach to last-mile deliveries in urban centres. The project, called "LogiSmile," focuses on collaboration between separate robots for last-mile delivery, which is a different approach to the typical single-robot solutions currently being explored.

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LogiSmile was presented on March 22nd, 2024, at the Lower Saxony Research Center for Vehicle Technology (NFF) at the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany.

The demonstration showcased a complete solution featuring two self-driving delivery vehicles, operating on a real public road at the Braunschweig research airport. This key accomplishment marks the culmination of the LogiSmile project, which aimed to develop a new urban logistics system specifically for parcel distribution and delivery.

The system consists of two robots: ONA, an autonomous robot capable of navigating pedestrian zones and streets for final-mile deliveries, and RAION, a novel vehicle concept developed by the Institute of Vehicle Technology at TU Braunschweig. RAION functions as an automated logistics vehicle, acting as a mobile logistics centre.

The project received co-financing of €1,356,610 from EIT Urban Mobility, an initiative of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. This initiative reflects the collaborative nature of the project, bringing together a total of thirteen organizations and institutions from across Europe, including universities, research centres, and a logistics company.

The project was driven by the need for new solutions in urban logistics, particularly with the surge in e-commerce leading to a significant rise in delivery traffic. This growth has resulted in increased congestion, safety concerns, and environmental pollution in city centres.

The LogiSmile system offers a potential solution to these challenges. By utilizing autonomous robots, the project aims to reduce delivery costs, lessen parking problems, and minimize traffic congestion and emissions. This will ultimately lead to a more sustainable and efficient last-mile delivery process.

The LogiSmile system comprises three key components:

  • Autonomous Delivery Device (ADD): a medium-sized autonomous vehicle designed for final-mile deliveries.
  • Autonomous Hub Vehicle (AHV): a larger autonomous robot that acts as a mobile hub, strategically positioned to provide support for the ADDs.
  • Remote Back-End Control Center: a central system that manages communication between the robots, gathers data, optimizes delivery routes, and ensures operational continuity in complex situations.

The LogiSmile partners believe that the collaboration between the ADD and AHV is a key innovation that has the potential to significantly reduce last-mile delivery operation costs.

The project will now enter a validation phase, with a focus on testing the integrated solution, including robot cooperation, in a new test environment within Braunschweig. The inclusion of a logistics company in this phase will ensure the project remains commercially relevant.

Finally, the consortium will explore the wider autonomous delivery market, including key players and potential clients, to develop a plan for deploying and commercializing this new service.