4 amazing innovations in logistics and urban mobility

Transitioning into the future of logistics means transforming current systems and processes. Think warehouse automation, quantum computing, micromobility, and drones to help goods on a faster, more environmentally-friendly journey.
Industries: Logistics
    1. Quantum computing is set to transform logistics
    2. Micromobility offers important last-mile solutions around the world
    3. Urban cargo transportation by ‘Ducktrain’
    4. Drones airdrop mail and even food deliveries in smart mailbox

Disruptions that result from changes in supply and demand, extreme weather conditions, or geopolitical instability have been a recurrent event in the logistics and supply chain industry in recent years. And the fact that the disruptions are becoming increasingly global and more complex only adds to the challenges companies in this sector are already facing, with issues like demands for faster deliveries as well as labour and materials shortages ever increasing. Logistics companies are realising that some of the answers to these hurdles lie in the implementation of advanced technologies – such as quantum computing, micromobility solutions, and drone deliveries.

Quantum computing is set to transform supply chain and routing optimisation, scheduling, and disruption management. Increasing efficiency by a mere 5 to 10 per cent could result in cost savings to the value of $18 to $35 billion per year.


  1. Quantum computing is set to transform logistics

Being able to keep your head above water and remain successful in the increasingly vast and complex logistics and supply chain ecosystems of today – and in the future – requires new and increasingly intelligent levels of coordination and collaboration between all stakeholders, including shippers, partners, and governments. Unfortunately, classical computing is slowly but surely reaching its limits and will not be able to fully deliver the optimisation solutions required by the logistics and supply chain sector going forward. Quantum computing could, however, enable real-time collaboration and sharing of critical data between all parties. This would enable instant operational decision making, dramatic cost reductions, and vastly improved outcomes in every conceivable aspect of logistical operations. Quantum computing could be used, for instance, to simulate various disruptive scenarios impacting the supply chain and enable the quantification – and more precise forecasts – of the impact of these potential scenarios. 

An example of how quantum computing power can be used to develop solutions to complex and critical worldwide logistics challenges is energy giant ExxonMobil. The energy giant’s Corporate Strategy Research Division has partnered with IBM Research to develop quantum algorithms that could help develop solutions for managing the global fleet of more than 50,000 merchant ships that move across our oceans every day, each transporting up to 200,000 containers. This is an impossible task for classical computers to carry out. The researchers explain: “We wanted to see whether quantum computers could transform how we solve such complex optimisation problems and provide more accurate solutions in less computational time. As a result of our joint research, ExxonMobil now has a greater understanding of the modelling possibilities, quantum solvers available, and potential alternatives for routing problems in any industry”. 

According to research firm McKinsey, quantum computing is set to significantly transform supply chain and routing optimisation, scheduling, and disruption management. Increasing efficiency – even if this would result in a mere 5 to 10 per cent reduction in supply chain costs – could amount to an astounding $18 to $35 billion per year.

By 2030, the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 global cities will have increased by 36 per cent, related CO2 emissions will have grown by 32 per cent, and congestion by 21 per cent.

World Economic Forum

  1. Micromobility offers important last-mile solutions around the world

With our urban centres becoming increasingly crowded and their legacy being that the majority of city-centre deliveries are still done by cars, trucks, and vans – even the last mile – you can imagine that space to move around and park is becoming increasingly scarce, and CO2 emissions are becoming an ever growing problem. In fact, according to predictions by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the number of delivery vehicles in the top 100 global cities will have increased by 36 per cent by 2030. Related CO2 emissions will have grown by 32 per cent, and congestion by 21 per cent. It’s clear that we urgently need to find solutions for this situation. One option is the transition to micromobility to take care of last-mile deliveries. Micromobility is a smart way to transport goods throughout our cities, using small, space-efficient, and environmentally-friendly vehicles. And thankfully, many micromobility initiatives implemented in various cities around the world in the past years are already showing positive results. 

The Bicycle Action Plan in the city of Helsinki, for instance, encompasses dedicated micromobility loading zones, improved bicycle parking conditions in buildings, and continuously updated routing maps. Bicycles are also fitted with sensors so that the condition of cycling lanes can be monitored. At the REDI shopping centre in Kalasatama, an area in the eastern part of the inner city of Helsinki, robot couriers deliver groceries to customers who live in the building next to the centre. And in the city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, many streets have seen their maximum speed reduced to 30 km/h, and low-emission zones have been implemented to deter the use of cars. By 2025, fossil-fuel vehicles will be completely banned from the city centre. And every year, 1 per cent of car parking space will be removed and re-allocated to cycling. Also by 2025, the use of micrologistics hubs in the city of London is forecasted to have reduced traffic volumes by 13 per cent and lowered harmful emissions by 17 per cent. And in Toronto, between 2019 and 2020, Uber Eats has seen an almost 50 per cent growth in bicycle deliveries, following improvements to the cycling network. A New York pilot project has shown an increase in cargo bike-based deliveries of approximately 110 per cent, and early results from the Bici Carga trial in Bogota indicate that up to 4.2 tons of CO2 emissions could be avoided if cargo e-bikes are used for last-mile deliveries. And a final example is PostNL in the Netherlands, which has – by switching to micromobility – managed an annual CO2 emission reduction of approximately 35,000 kg.

  1. Urban cargo transportation by ‘Ducktrain’

Future mobility – and micromobility – will not only entail the electrification of more and more vehicles, but it is also likely to change the way our cities and roads look and function. For one, the future of mobility is all about open roads without any congestion. The Aachen-based startup DroidDrive imagines a city with clear, open roads that can actually be used for their intended purpose: driving. The company has developed the Ducktrain, an automated transportation system that will render the use of conventional delivery vehicles in city centres a thing of the past and make inner-city logistics cleaner, less noisy, and more efficient. The Ducktrain operates fully electrically, which will potentially prevent the emission of more than 60 million tonnes of CO2 in European cities. Like a flock of ducks, the pallet-sized carts that make up the Ducktrain, one rolling behind the other, enable the last-mile delivery of parcels and other goods. The way they do this is by making use of ‘follow me technology’ – sensors that recognise the vehicle at the front (or a person that accompanies them) and connect to it (or him/her). The route, acceleration, deceleration, and steering angle of the vehicle towing the train are automatically calculated and optimised by artificial intelligence. Ducktrain units are one metre wide, can carry 300 kg worth of cargo, and have 2 m3 of storage space. They can move past gridlocked areas, easily manoeuvre through pedestrian zones and narrow streets, and will automatically stop when they encounter an obstacle or another moving ‘object’, such as a pedestrian. The Ducktrain is developed in such a way that it splits up during the final 10 to 500 metres in the delivery zone, after which ‘single ducks’ deliver their parcels to each building’s door. They can also drive to a location with automated locker boxes, from which customers can collect their parcels. Once the lockers have been emptied, the ‘single ducks’ will track back to the logistic hub to be refilled with the next load of parcels.

  1. Drones airdrop mail and even food deliveries in smart mailbox

Another interesting innovation comes from Lawrence, Indiana, where a startup called DroneDek has developed high-tech mailboxes that can accept various deliveries and pickups such as traditional mail, but also medical and food deliveries. The smart mailbox offers a secure and weatherproof receptacle that stores packages and notifies users of deliveries or pickups. The smart mailbox also has a secure storage compartment for high-value deliveries and is protected by sensor technology that can detect various threats, such as biohazards or explosives. Once such dangerous items are detected, the system automatically alerts the user as well as the relevant authorities. The smart mailbox is sensor-packed, climate-controlled, fitted with Bluetooth and GPS, has a motorised sliding door, and a two-way speaker system for real-time communication. It is protected by a fully encrypted, end-to-end opening protocol – which means you need a security code to open it. Deliveries are verified via a QR code and disinfected using UV light. The smart mailbox is also equipped with technology to charge the drone on its docking station and powered either via a solar panel, an internal power supply, a battery, or wind energy. Dronedek founder and CEO, Dan O’Toole, says: “The pilot is meant to showcase how the mailbox is ready for both traditional and autonomous package delivery and show what it can do in the near future when federal regulations are relaxed to enable autonomous delivery. We’re also marking the start of secure autonomous package delivery. It’s historic”.

In closing

Successfully transitioning into the future of logistics requires rethinking and transforming current systems and processes. The last mile – the delivery to the doors of consumers and businesses – is one of the most complex tasks in logistics, especially in urban city centres in which cars, trucks, buses, trams, bicycles, and pedestrians all compete for space to move around. Solutions to last-mile challenges include automating warehousing and using quantum computing to streamline logistics operations, as well as autonomous vehicles, micromobility, and drones to help goods on a faster, more efficient, and more environmentally-friendly journey: from origin to destination.

Industries: Logistics
We’re in the midst of a technological revolution and the trends, technologies, and innovations to look out for are all game-changers. They bring competitive advantages, increase the effectiveness of operations, make our daily lives more efficient, improve healthcare, and significantly change the landscape and beyond.

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