Saving the environment one robot delivery at a time

By Henry Harris-Burland

Henry Harris-Burland, VP Marketing, Starship Technologies, explores how last-mile deliveries are greener than ever and why customers should not feel guilty for ordering deliveries as opposed to driving to stores.

Last mile delivery is one of the most costly segments of the supply chain. McKinsey estimates that the final leg of a delivery comprises up to 50% of a product’s total transportation cost. However, the real and lasting impact that last mile delivery can have is much closer to home, quite literally. A successful first-time final mile home delivery creates approximately 181g of CO2 per km per item, way above the EU target set in 2017 for vans not to emit more than 175mg per km. In recent years, the only real alternatives to carbon-free bicycle deliveries have been cars, vans and motorbikes; all serial pollutants of CO2 into the atmosphere and all the more costly too.

Consider the emissions involved in delivering take-away food, for example. Customers consistently demand short waiting times, with more than a quarter of consumers being willing to pay more for quicker delivery. This demand means that food vendors are deploying bigger fleets of delivery drivers to complete return car journeys to individual homes. They are forced to expand their fleet because it is difficult to integrate multiple deliveries into one journey as vendors often have large catchment areas to maximise potential orders and obviously food gets colder the longer the journey duration. 

In cases where deliveries can be effectively integrated, e.g. a postal service, there is a high probability that numerous deliveries won’t be completed as some recipients may be unavailable at the time of attempted delivery. In turn, this leads to more car journeys to the depot where undelivered packages are kept, multiplying the carbon emissions emitted into the atmosphere even further.

It is also important to consider the amount of unnecessary car journeys that the average consumer will take just to buy one or two items. Almost everyone has driven to the nearby shop to buy some milk instead of walking, especially in adverse weather conditions, however the issue is that modern cars emit twice as much carbon in the first five minutes of a journey and more than half of UK car journeys are less than two miles.

Given that a 25 km round-trip by car emits 5,188g of CO2, or the equivalent of 16 re-delivery attempts by van, the last mile delivery industry is an unsustainable form of delivery for the future. With high-profile commentators such as Pam Danziger, of market research firm Canvas, who predicted that 2019 was to be the “year that responsible consumerism goes mainstream”, autonomous robot delivery, which is both an economical and sustainable alternative, has the power to add convenience to customers who want their everyday items delivered without having to drive to the store, whilst decreasing their own carbon footprints.


The sidewalk solution

The UK government has realised the environmental crisis that we’re facing. Their Climate Change Emergency declaration in May 2019 has prompted demands for more rigorous energy targets, one of which is to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The elimination of unnecessary fossil fuel consumption in food delivery could be a key way to achieve this target.

In this age of technological innovation and advancements in robotic capabilities, electrically-powered autonomous delivery robots are on the rise. They are already providing a carbon-free alternative for deliveries in numerous cities across the globe and helping to dramatically cut carbon emissions.

When they know they’re contributing towards the sustainable economy, customers should not feel lazy for ordering a delivery instead of driving to the shops, they should feel good about it! Driving a two-tonne car is an incredibly inefficient method just to pick up a bag of groceries.  On the contrary, incurring a small fee to have your items delivered by a small environmentally-friendly robot in as little as 15 minutes is a small price to pay so that our planet can be sustained for future generations. two tone car

People should feel comfortable in the knowledge that their items will get from A to B in one piece, too. For example, Starship Technologies’ robots use machine learning, sensor fusion and computer vision to navigate their way around sidewalks all over the world. They are fitted with radars, cameras and ultrasonic sensors to ensure that items are kept safe until they are unlocked by the customer, which is managed through an app interface.

Over the next few years, we’ll see just how effective delivery robots have been in the fight against climate change. Countries across the globe are eager to meet ambitious targets when it comes to curbing CO2 emissions, and going into the 2020s we can expect more and more industries take the initiative and adopt autonomous delivery to help in this effort. 

As the world of delivery continues to become more innovative and flexible, it will save thousands and even millions of CO2 tonnes in the years to come. The 2020s will be an exciting decade as we see more and more consumers utilise environmentally-friendly solutions like autonomous robots - the future could not be greener!

For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.

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