LivingPackets is using the IoT to disrupt the courier and postal industries, combining the latest technology with crowdshipping to reduce the carbon footprint of B2B parcels.
Sending packages across borders tends to be expensive, inconvenient, and/or slow, depending on the method of choice. However, a French startup, LivingPackets, is offering a smart alternative to international couriers and postal services.
LivingPackets is a crowdshipping service that combines the best features of a traditional courier with the sharing economy and the latest in IoT technology. Customers drop off the item they want to send at a local pick-up point, where it is transferred into one of the company’s smart packaging solutions – a connected rucksack (known as a LivingPacket).
Then, a traveller who is already making the journey – say, from London to Paris – collects the item and drops it off at another pick-up point in the destination city. Financial incentives are offered to both travellers and ‘guardians’ – stores that agree to be designated pick-up and collection points.
Couriers can be arranged for the initial or final legs of each journey to make sure the transfer between customers and guardians is as smooth as possible. The aim is to combine the speed and convenience of C2C crowdshipping with the benefits of local pick-up/collection points and couriers.
LivingPackets’ service, now piloting between London and Paris, is primarily targeted at the business community. Plans are in place to expand the service to Brussels, Dusseldorf, Lille, and Lyon later this year.
The ‘internet of parcels’
The LivingPackets solution stands ready to disrupt conventional postal services by offering faster delivery times at a lower cost. But arguably the biggest selling point – and one that is required given the reliance on an ad hoc community of holidaymakers and strangers – is the wealth of technology embedded into each LivingPacket to ensure security.
Each bag, available in three different sizes, contains connected technologies that provide peace of mind and guarantee integrity during transit. These include an LED light and alarm that sounds if the package is opened without authorisation.
A GPS tracker allows all parties to locate the item in real time; a keyless system uses a magnetic lock to ensure that only the intended recipient can open the package through the app.
Temperature, shock, and humidity sensors inside the packaging help to safeguard sensitive items throughout the transportation process. And finally, each LivingPacket includes a built-in camera that gives both parties a view of the parcel from the inside.
The benefits of connected crowdshipping
By combining the best features of conventional postal services with the sharing economy, LivingPacket offers a genuine alternative to the norm, the appeal of which will grow with increased adoption.
And, just as with ride-sharing platforms, there are also obvious environmental benefits. For a start, LivingPackets offers a completely packaging-free delivery service. Customers simply place their items inside the smart containers.
And most importantly, by using journeys that are already taking place, LivingPackets could drastically reduce the carbon footprint of international B2B deliveries.
Earlier this month LivingPackets was selected to join French rail operator SNFC’s Young Startups program, Jeune Pousse. As a result, the company will receive business support as it expands throughout Europe.
Cyril Garnier, General Manager of SNCF Développement said, “The LivingPackets solution is promising, not least because of the high level of security it offers. Well thought through, it is complementary to other collaborative logistics solutions that we support.”
Marie Le Page, CEO of LivingPackets UK, added, “Being selected by this major player in European transport is a real opportunity for us. We are confident of the benefits this partnership will bring to our international growth as we pioneer the internet of parcels”.
What about border control and security?
While this clever idea holds enormous promise for the smart, sharing-economy transformation of a range of services, obvious questions arise about passport and security controls at airports and international train stations. How does the company deal with these?
Internet of Business put the question to CEO Le Page. She said, “Border control agents and the voyager will be able to open the bag on demand. The bag has a magnetic lock for that reason.
“For now, any unauthorised opening will trigger the alarm and immediately alert all participants. In that case, either the sender or LivingPackets can contact the voyager via the app and ask what’s happening. We will also be able to require the activation of the inside camera and weight control to take another picture and weight. This way, we can make sure that nobody added or removed anything from the bag.
“Going forward, we are working on an app that will be dedicated to border control agents, allowing them to know how many LivingPacket bags are travelling onboard, the identity of each participant, as well as the content. We are working on adding unique labels to the LivingPacket bag, like a DNA tag, which border control will be able to scan on demand to open the bag without triggering the alarm.
“This will also solve the issue of people copying our bags to smuggle illegal goods, as their bags won’t be listed or tracked by that app.
“If the bag goes through security normally, nobody needs to open the bag. If the bag is opened for security purposes, this will be registered on the app for the bag’s journey/manifesto – and all parties will be aware it has been checked at security.”
Another question is whether the traveller knows what he or she is carrying. Le Page said, “When the voyager collects a LivingPacket bag from the guardian, they will examine and confirm that the contents inside correspond to the photograph supplied by the sender, and the paperwork describing the item. The voyager will know exactly what he or she is transporting.
“The guardian, who is fully security trained and will follow best practices, is the one to place the item in the bag, in front of the sender. The magnetic lock automatically triggers a picture and logs the weight, so nobody will be able to tamper with the bag from that point on. The guardian will then seal the bag until it is deposited and checked by the guardian at the receiving terminal.”
And finally, is the ‘voyager’ legally responsible for the contents’ safe delivery, given that they are crowdsourced contributors, not professional couriers? Le Page said that the traveller is not legally liable, but added, “Obviously, the deal is that they should keep the LivingPacket with them at all times.
“The bag is also connected to the voyager’s app via Bluetooth. A loss of connection – of approximately 20 metres – will immediately alert all participants and the voyager should be able to go and get it immediately. This limits the risk of it being left behind or lost.
“If stolen or damaged, the contents are fully insured up to €3,000 and a shock sensor will determine when and if the bag was dropped and damaged. However, the LivingPacket bag is tracked throughout the journey, via sensors including a camera – and you can even chat with the voyager.
“Even the highest-cost courier or delivery service doesn’t give you that access/tracking in real-time throughout the journey. So we believe this is the safest way to send your package.”
Internet of Business says
A promising solution and a clever, sustainable idea, with evidence that the company has thought through the security aspects of its service at every level. Beyond the challenges of publicising the service and attracting sufficient numbers of travellers, any weakness in the offering will be in the last mile of the delivery: at the traditional courier’s end.
Certainly a concept to watch for the future, if the complexity of the solution can be ironed out.
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