Omniva management board member Kristi Unt talks about popular logistics and postal service innovations and discusses their potential in the near and distant future.
- Parcel robot on wheels
The best example of a parcel robot on wheels is Estonia’s own six-wheeled parcel robot from Starship Technologies. Omniva has also tested parcel robots with the special van adapted for their transport. The conclusion of the pilot project a few years ago was that the solution would be efficient for a denser population and if the public ordered more parcels. A great example of well-functioning parcel robot systems are the large university campuses abroad, where robots are used for both express parcel delivery and food delivery.
However, it is obvious that the robot will not be replacing the courier any time soon. The robot cannot yet manage credentials, signatures and other such things. Nor is there a solution at present which does not require physical human-robot interaction. This has been the bottleneck of the traditional courier service compared to parcel machines, for example.
Each innovation has a specific target group and suitable environment and, according to our assessment, Estonia is not in favour of drone deliveries. The drone frenzy that took over the logistics world a couple of years ago has significantly subsided, and other technologies are seen as more suitable for the last mile service. However, drones are definitely useful in areas where other transport means might not work that well, such as mountain regions, swampy areas or archipelagos. It is possible that there are such regions in Estonia, but the parcel volumes would likely be minimal. Omniva has not yet performed a drone pilot, but if we find suitable conditions, we will definitely do it.
- Private home parcel locker i.e. personal parcel machine
This is likely the innovation in this list that will become the fastest to be realised. A number of private home parcel lockers are already in use in Estonia and there are several service providers.
The coronavirus pandemic boosted this innovation segment greatly because most people spent the majority of their time at home and online shopping became the norm. The trend is moving towards smaller parcel machines that are moved closer to people’s home, the end result of which would be personal parcel machines. Currently, it is still clearly a convenience service, but in the distant future it could be a part of parcel or postal network like mailboxes are today.
The main issues today are the price of technology and the availability of various services. A true victory for this technology would be if the delivered shipments (periodicals, letters, parcels) were first collected and then delivered to the client at the same time. The private locker could also develop a sending option. Gathering the shipments would allow keeping the environmental footprint smaller, which would expand rapidly if all shipments were delivered separately.
- Automated post office based on self-service
Althoughit is not as popular an innovation as a drone, the efficiency of an automated service point may be considerably higher. Self-service postal service booths have been tested in many places around the world and its purpose is to improve the availability of postal services in various regions. At a time when post office visits are on the decline and people prefer self-service channels, an automated post office could be an alternative available 24/7 to a traditional post office. A combination of a nearby parcel machine, a self-service post office and a personalised postal service based on mail carriers could ensure a wholesome and accessible postal service in the future.
- Self-driving parcel machine
In theory, such a machine could be implemented in suitable areas. On the one hand, the parcel machine concept would enable consolidating parcels, automation would mean smaller permanent costs for logistics companies and the client could retrieve the parcel from near their home. HAgain, however, it would mean that man and machine must meet at an agreed time. Currently, the question is, how will the expensive machine earn its value, how will it manage in the current traffic and when will our legislation be ready for such technology.
What is the future of today’s parcel machine?
We see that in at least the next five years, the current parcel machine will not have a serious competitor. At the same time, the parcel machine is an environmentally friendly and effective delivery channel. The client will pick up their parcel mainly while running other errands and the courier can deliver hundreds of parcels in one drive.
In the future, the parcel machines will also adapt according to demand and the environment. This means that more types of parcel machines will emerge that are focused on different user types and designed for different environments. For example, the machines located next to grocery stores could ensure suitable conditions for issuing food products as well in the future. Additionally, in the distant future, the client could have the opportunity to rent a specific parcel machine locker next to large malls to have all the parcels from different service providers delivered to one locker.
Since the machines are also reaching smaller settlements, the machine needs to become smaller in capacity and simpler to meet the region’s needs. To reach anywhere, the technology needs to become more affordable. This means that the machine’s hardware will likely become simpler. For example, the smaller parcel machines will lose screens and the machine will be usable with a phone (and not just a smartphone).
User convenience will also surely improve, so that use of the machine is even simpler and carefree for users in all age groups.
Although the parcel machine can be considered one of the most environmentally friendly delivery channels, there is still room for improvement. For example, future parcel machines could work on solar power – why not?