DHL US trials robots, AI, AR & crowdsourcing to beat Amazon
DHL PostBOTs on the street

DHL US trials robots, AI, AR & crowdsourcing to beat Amazon

Parcel delivery and logistics firm DHL said today that it is piloting a range of new connected technologies in the US, including collaborative robots, AI, and augmented reality glasses.

The move comes in the wake of retail and Web services hyper-company Amazon’s recent announcement that it is moving into deliveries in America.

“As consumer expectations are rapidly evolving due to a number of major trends, including e-commerce, urbanisation, and sustainability in particular, logistics providers are being challenged to provide more flexible and efficient services,” said DHL today.

DHL Supply Chain has introduced robotics in its warehouse operations – including LocusBots and Sawyer collaborative robots – along with augmented reality glasses. The mix of technologies is designed to improve ‘smart picking’, productivity, and order fulfilment.

LocusBots work autonomously in warehouses to find and move goods, as this video explains.

DHL Supply Chain President of Retail, Jim Gehr said: “Innovative technology is becoming an extremely important element in e-commerce logistics because of changing customer demands.

We are using software technology to speed order flow and to more efficiently organise distribution centres. Hardware solutions like LocusBots allow for faster picking. What we look for is a smart combination of software and hardware.

Last year, the Deutsche Post DHL group trialled autonomous robot deliveries in Germany using its PostBOT vehicles (pictured above), and has also been trialling ‘Parcelcopter’ drones.

Meanwhile, the company’s DHL Express division has been piloting artificial intelligence in its customer applications to further enhance its responsiveness and customer service.

The company said today that it has “registered a 10 percent increase in shipment processing accuracy through increased automation at its hubs and gateways”, while its on-demand delivery online service has increased first-time delivery success for e-commerce shipments from 80 percent to 92 percent.

Last-mile services

As part of the delivery giant’s widespread internal transformation via IoT and digital technologies, its DHL eCommerce unit has also launched ‘DHL Parcel Metro’, a new service that helps online retailers satisfy customer demands for same- or next-day delivery.

Parcel Metro uses customised software that allows DHL eCommerce to create a ‘virtual delivery network’ of local or regional contract couriers along with crowd-sourced providers. This ensures maximum flexibility and capacity over the last mile, it said today.

The new service is now available in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, and will be launched in Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington DC later in the year.

Bobby Shome, Global Business Development Director at delivery management specialist Centiro, explained the thinking behind the strategy: “DHL’s launch of a same-day delivery service for US online retailers drives home just how important the last mile has become in retaining and attracting customers.

“These new delivery options from DHL will allow smaller online businesses in the US to successfully compete with larger, more established retailers, like Amazon, which recently launched its own delivery service.

“For all the progress that’s being made, however, retailers mustn’t lose sight of the fact that they risk damaging relationships with customers if the delivery service does not meet expectations. As such, it is critical for retailers to retain visibility over the delivery process, and ensure they have the technology in place to make this possible, regardless of the promises being made by carriers.”

Internet of Business says

The digital and connected transformation of retail, the supply chain, and deliveries continues apace, and is centred on customer need. As more and more people opt for the convenience of shopping with a click, any old-fashioned lags in the system rapidly become unacceptable. However, all organisations should be wary of any automated system that increases the end-customer’s workload, even as it speeds up the delivery experience.

Read more: Alexa for Business: Amazon’s voice getting louder in enterprise, it claims

Read more: Amazon Go store previews the future of retail in Seattle

Read more: DHL trials smart warehouses in three European locations

Chris Middleton
Chris Middleton is former editor of Internet of Business, and now a contributor to the title. He specialises in robotics, AI, the IoT, blockchain, and technology strategy. He is also former editor of Computing, Computer Business Review, and Professional Outsourcing, among others, and is a contributing editor to Diginomica, Computing, and Hack & Craft News. Over the years, he has also written for Computer Weekly, The Guardian, The Times, PC World, I-CIO, V3, The Inquirer, and Blockchain News, among many others. He is an acknowledged robotics expert who has appeared on BBC TV and radio, ITN, and Talk Radio, and is probably the only tech journalist in the UK to own a number of humanoid robots, which he hires out to events, exhibitions, universities, and schools. Chris has also chaired conferences on robotics, AI, IoT investment, digital marketing, blockchain, and space technologies, and has spoken at numerous other events.