Robots to deliver to Dutch consumers’ doors

The dramatic rise in parcel deliveries has resulted in increasing logistical difficulties. The solution may be to adopt self-driving robotic vehicles. At Dutch Design Week (DDW), visitors can take a look at one of these vehicles inside Klokgebouw.

Parcel delivery has experienced a dramatic growth over the past few years. Almost 9 out of 10 Dutch consumers have purchased something online over the past 12 months. The Dutch now increasingly do their daily grocery shopping via the internet as well: at the moment, 43 percent of Dutch consumers order groceries online at least once per week.

That percentage is expected to grow to 62 percent by 2021, according to the recent study ‘The Last Mile Delivery Challenge’ by the Capgemini Research Institute. ‘Last mile delivery’ is the term for the last section of the delivery chain: the stretch of the delivery from the large mail sorting or distribution centres to the buyer’s front door or the shop’s storage room.

Sustainable delivery solutions

The researchers at Capgemini refer to it as a ‘challenge’, because the increasing volume of deliveries also results in more traffic, less parking space, and increased air pollution. It is therefore high time that companies invest in more efficient and sustainable delivery solutions. Renault is setting theexample with its innovative EZ-PRO concept car.

Renault has been making commercial vehicles for more than 120 years, and the company is the European market leader in electric light commercial vehicles, like the Kangoo Z.E. and Master Z.E. With EZ-PRO. Doing so, the company provides a glimpse into the delivery options of the future. EZ-PRO is a multi-faceted platform. The robotic vehicle offers cargo ‘pods’; container-like units that determine the robot van’s functionality.

EZ-PRO
Renault
Modular pods

“From outside, the pods look identical, but inside they’re furnished for a specific purpose”, explains Laurens van den Acker, the Dutch Executive Vice President Corporate Design at Renault. “That could be small parcels, or really big objects. Since the pod is modular, it can be filled anywhere and anytime, then loaded onto an EZ-PRO vehicle in minutes. That gives transporters more leeway to manage their flow of goods as efficiently as possible.”

But this is just the beginning. The traditional driver’s seat is also multi-functional in the new EZ-PRO concept. Since the robotic vehicle can drive itself, a driver is technically superfluous. “He or she still has a valuable function, though, and since we’re a French company we’ve given them the title of ‘concierge’, says Van den Acker. “Where the steering wheel once was, there’s now a screen.”

EZ-PRO
Renault
Self-driving convoy

The ‘concierge’ has two vital functions in the new concept. First, he/she is responsible for the ‘last mile delivery’: delivering the order to the customer’s door. “In the future, people will still value that human contact”, Van den Acker says. “Plus, the concierge is also responsible for managing all of the pods.” Another innovative solution allows EZ-PRO concept to carry up to 5 pods.

In that case, five EZ-PRO vehicles would drive in a convoy through the city like a train, with four self-driving vehicles following the first one carrying the ‘concierge’. Doing so would allow them to make most efficient use of the road surface. The pods can then leave the train at any moment to deliver their cargo independently and re-join the convoy. Special pods could also be parked throughout the city to act as ‘mobile collection points’. Consumers could then open the post boxes via an app.

EZ-PRO
Renault
Efficient platform function

Renault has also cleverly elaborated the platform function of EZ-PRO. Several transporters, online shops, or other clients could share a pod, so they would no longer need their own separate delivery vehicles. All of the clients could also rent their own pod in a convoy. These intelligent sharing scenarios would enable EZ-PRO to use the available space more efficiently, which would lower costs and reduce the burden on the local residents.

And we’ve only discussed the delivery options up till now. Van den Acker: “You can furnish the pods to give the vehicle any imaginable function. For example, EZ-PRO can easily be reconfigured into a van for a plumber, carpenter, or florist. We’ve even transformed the concept car into a food truck and a mobile coffee bar. That latter configuration is on display at Klokgebouw building during Dutch Design Week. With EZ-PRO, the future is flexible.”