The Future of Urban Logistics

Where are We Heading and How Will We Get There?

Congestion, fuel consumption, pollution, the environment, consumer demands, urban design, safety, convenience, virtualisation and population growth are just some of the current and future agendas that are fundamentally changing urban logistics. The cost and complexity of trying to distribute goods in a busy city increases all the time. But people keep ordering and suppliers are eager to meet their demands. There’s a strong market for logistics services. The question is, how will they evolve?

Innovative logistics and transport vehicles and schemes are in the headlines every week. At CACI, we think it’s likely that a combination of solutions will form the new urban logistics landscape, rather than one single technology or concept. Somehow, they all need to work in harmony together on public infrastructure. And of course, there are economic constraints and incentives that influence R&D and adoption.


Small and Nimble

Household delivery firms are flirting with small vehicles like e-cargo bikes and electric tuk-tuks. They’re nimble and minimally polluting in operation, but their range and operating time is limited. Logically, operators have therefore looked at smaller or mobile hubs to send them out from, creating a flexible micro-network that covers a city and adapts to demand every hour of the day. The success of this model relies on sophisticated logistics planning and mapping systems, responsive in real time to changing demand, loaded with detailed and up-to-the-minute data about traffic conditions, congestion and access.


No Driver Required

Drones and autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of delivery staff on the streets and provide a direct and efficient route to the doorstep or office. With customer demand for same day, within the hour deliveries in cities, remote controlled delivery devices make human resources go further: staff could program, monitor and control large numbers of these vehicles. The Co-op’s pavement trials in Milton Keynes and the Amazon drone beehive concept have proved high profile novelties.

But there are still issues to tackle in terms of battery life and range, safe interaction with humans and other vehicles on shared highways. And then there’s customer service: what happens if it’s the wrong product or it’s damaged on arrival? For drones, security concerns have led to no-fly zones being established around airports and some city centres.

Detailed, accurate address and route databases are critical here too. Remote devices need to know exactly how to access a building, where to leave a package on request and to plot routes that suite their capabilities – avoiding stairs or kerbs in the case of wheeled robot couriers.


Loop the Loop

Fixed urban logistics infrastructure is also under the spotlight. Elon Musk’s high speed hyperloop is designed to eat up long distances between urban centres, but urban cargo loops could help ease congestion and improve sustainability. Smart City Loop could transport pallet deliveries 10m below the ground from depots on the outskirts to micro hubs in city centres. This requires a major construction project, technology standardisation and co-operation between logistics providers to make efficient use of the facility.

Some cities already have an above-ground urban loop in the form of a canal network. It might seem a retrograde step, but putting local deliveries back on the water could benefit the environment and reduce traffic. New waterborne vehicles, even autonomous ones, could use this old-school infrastructure in a very modern way.


Charging up Retail

Retailers are experiencing explosive demand for rapid delivery of goods in urban areas. Grocery e-commerce is a competitive sector, historically dependent on a fleet of small trucks. All the major UK supermarkets are experimenting with urban logistics solutions that support their credentials as responsible organisations and enable them to deliver cost-effectively, with maximum customer satisfaction. Headline grabbing eco-trials are one thing, finding sustainably affordable city centre alternatives to vans for large shopping orders is a major challenge.

Sainsbury’s has been operating a ‘dark store’ in East London since 2016 to meet the forecast demand. With a small but dense urban catchment for a depot like this, shorter range electric delivery vehicles could be a viable retail delivery solution. But vehicle costs are high compared to conventional fuelled vans: predicting and comparing payback time for different models is crucial. Powerful mapping and route planning software and accurate road data is needed to optimise vehicle efficiency, taking into account gradients, recharge points and road speed to get the most from the electric motor.


You Need Smart Software Tools and Data to Plan for the Urban Future

CACI’s Data and Logistics Group is keeping pace with all the latest urban logistics developments. Innovative and efficient transport networks all rely on sophisticated catchment data, route planning and address mapping technology. Our INRIX data can optimise deliveries by understanding road speeds for different types of vehicles and by knowing which roads are more or less congested. When a delivery reaches its destination, our AddressAnalytix solution identifies red routes where delivery vehicles are not allowed to stop and whether the address is a detached house with parking or a multi-story block of flats (with lots of stairs!).


If you’d like to talk to an expert at CACI about refining your datasets and digital tools to enable more accurate and efficient geo-location, please get in touch with our team.