Innovation, forward thinking and the ability to stay one step ahead of your competitors have always been key factors for success. In times of adversity, the astute entrepreneurial spirit rises to the fore, providing new solutions to overcome the unpredictable.

Predicting the unpredictable

Coronavirus certainly matches the description of the unpredictable. Three months ago it was beyond the realm of logical thinking that an unknown virus detected in Wuhan, China, would have the power to halt production lines, affect global supply chains, transportation and freight forwarding services and cause governments to put immediate strategic measures in place.

Similarly, three years ago, when Jack Ma, business magnate, investor and co-founder of technology conglomerate Alibaba, predicted that within ten years driverless services would account for approximately one billion deliveries across China alone, it was perhaps difficult to foresee the accuracy of his statement.

Artificial intelligence and disruptive technology is certainly beginning to make its mark on the transportation and logistics sector.  Last mile deliveries by drone or robo-cars, are no longer a futuristic whim as many countries adopt pilot trials of driverless transportation schemes. Quarantine measures have caused significant labour shortages, particularly along coastal regions which have traditionally relied upon a migrant workforce and have now resulted in a dramatic shift in governmental policy. Regulatory restrictions on the use of robo-vans on the open road are being eased as safety risks are considered low due to the downturn in everyday traffic and lack of congestion.

Unprecedented demand

Anxiety disrupting businesses and supply chains has boosted the future of autonomous transport. Neolix, a driverless delivery company based in Beijing, has seen unprecedented demand for its services. The company’s small, four wheeled robotic vehicles are playing an important role in helping China to recuperate from its trading woes. Human physical contact is reduced and the issue of labour shortages caused by quarantines and travel restrictions is addressed, Additionally, the vehicles have been deployed to disinfect streets and focus on same day delivery of medical supplies and food to those on the front line – thus helping to curb the further spread of the virus.

Changing mindsets and governmental policy

Demand has surged together with a noticeable change in perception. As health, safety and self-preservation techniques become top priorities, fear forces a shifting mindset. People accept the fact that driverless deliveries have a positive advantage as a means of achieving so much without jeopardising human safety. China’s digital service economy has prospered during the coronavirus crisis as online consumption soars. Local authorities are even offering financial incentives of up to 60 per cent of the cost of purchasing and operating driverless delivery vans. Such governmental subsidies will speed up promotion of the vehicles as well as accelerating the commercialisation of autonomous service – again, a prediction foretold by Jack Ma. The industry has suddenly entered into a fast expansion phase as a result of the virus, which Neolix, courier services and same day delivery providers stand to benefit from.

Last mile deliveries

The post-coronavirus world will rely on new capabilities as delivery services pioneer new technologies to tackle last mile deliveries.

  • Nuro Inc, Neolix’ US rival have won federal safety approval for purpose built self-driving vehicles which it hopes to use to autonomously deliver groceries
  • Starship Technologies plans a similar service with six-wheeled land-based drone type robots, delivering via GPS technology to properties within a 30 min delivery distance from its hubs
  • supermarket operator, Kruger, is trialling a fleet of self-delivery grocery cars capable of transporting up to ten bags of shopping ordered via its mobile app or website
  • Amazon plans to make last mile deliveries with an army of drones to deliver packages to doorsteps

As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, so too does the domino effect on traditional freight and logistics companies. The once unthinkable in terms of travel restrictions, port bans and border closures have now become distinct realities, and with it the changing face of commerce takes shape. Responding to increased demand is both a focus and a challenge for courier services and the wider same day parcel delivery industry.

Innovative solutions which provide not only value for the customer but also tackle the issues currently being witnessed, are the only way forward. As the market evolves, industry players must invest in the most effective long-lasting technologies to create tomorrow’s market-place. Autonomous vehicles, drones and robo-vans are no longer futuristic pipedreams but novel methods of revolutionising last mile deliveries. Coronavirus, a seemingly unrelated global phenomenon, may well prove to be the triggering catalyst.

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