Automating the last mile will deliver big payoff: report

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

The rise in e-commerce is fueling rapid growth in parcel delivery volumes, a market expected to grow to US$665 billion by 2030. Consumers are increasingly expecting parcels to be delivered quickly.

This demand is driving companies to explore using automated delivery technologies to cover the last leg of the delivery journey. Lux Research’s new report, “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 only address 20 percent of all parcel deliveries.

Lux forecasts that the market for parcel delivery will grow from a total of 107 billion parcels delivered in 2019, generating $350 billion in revenue, to 289 billion parcel deliveries in 2030, generating $665 billion in revenue, resulting in a combined annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.5 percent in parcel count and 5.8 percent in market value.

“Most of this e-commerce growth is expected to come from Asia because China and India still have a relatively low amount of parcel deliveries per capita,” said Lux Research senior analyst Chris Robinson.

Automated last-mile delivery technologies fall into four key categories: drones, legged robots, wheeled robots, and autonomous vehicles. Of these, autonomous vehicles paired with drones show the most promise. Lux Research expects them to deliver more than 20 billion parcels a year by 2030.

Drones are currently limited to a small delivery radius, but this range can be extended by deploying them from a moving autonomous vehicle. Drone deliveries will be limited to uncongested rural areas, which have the lowest regulatory barriers to aviation.

Wheeled robots are easier to develop than autonomous vehicles but are only feasible on college campuses where the incumbent delivery method is walking or bicycling. These deliveries are expected to account for only 1.5 billion deliveries annually by 2030.

“Robot-as-a-service business models are emerging in startups developing last-mile automated delivery technologies,” said Lux Research analyst Josh Kern.

“Large companies that can invest in and develop their own technologies are not expected to use these services, but logistics companies and retailers with no experience in robotics likely will.”

E-commerce companies globally have announced multibillion-dollar supply chain investments aimed at promising faster deliveries. Fulfillment centre workflow optimizations, including automated picking and packing solutions, are crucial for shortening delivery times.

“Today this is mostly manual, but advancements in robotic grippers, machine vision, and collaborative robotics are all improving the ability to automate these tasks,” said Robinson. Full automation is likely more than a decade away due to increased complexity and handling of items.