Smaller may become better in delivery: IDTechEx

Autonomous robot vehicles, including drones, seen as disrupting driver and van/truck function

Smaller may become better in delivery: IDTechEx
IDTechEx points to the likely culprits. Sources for robots, first row: Starship Technologies, Alibaba, and TwinWheel; second row: DJ, Dispatch, and Teleretail; and third row: SideWalk, Marathon Technologies, and Marble


Autonomous delivery vehicles may turn traditional size assumptions on their head, according to UK market research firm IDTechEx.

The Cambridge-based company foresees a ‘hare versus tortoise’ scenario unfolding, particularly in the ‘last-mile’ function.

"Autonomous mobile robots are causing a paradigm shift in the way we envisage commercial and industrial vehicles," the company’s researchers say.

"In traditional thinking bigger is often better.

"This is because bigger vehicles are faster and are thus more productive.

"This thinking holds true so long as each vehicle requires a human driver.

"The rise of autonomous mobility is however upending this long-established notion: fleets of small slow robots will replace or complement large fast manned vehicles."

They note that last-mile fulfilment can represent as much as half the total delivery cost and is an inherently low-productivity process.

This is in stark contrast to long haulage in which large loads are transported along fixed routes.

"The current modes of last mile delivery all involve humans: a driver may drive a van along local routes, dropping parcels door by door; a person on a motorbike or cycle may carry one or few items to limited destinations per run; or both," IDTechEx says.

"These modes work and may be fast, but remain expensive despite employing many new business models and route-optimisation algorithms.

"Change is, however, underway, and we can already see the silhouette of the medium-term future: unmanned autonomous robots carrying small loads to pre-determined destinations.

"These robots may at first seem like strange creatures: they are smaller and slower than current modes of last mile delivery and can carry fewer items per trip, certainly making them less productive and thus less cost effective.

"However, this is old thinking in which productivity is compared on a per unit basis. This is because autonomous mobility lends itself to fleet operation. In this model, one remote operator may monitor and control the work of many delivery robots.

"In this case, the wage and overhead of the person is spread over many robots. In essence, the fleet will magnify the productivity of the operator. Consequently, productivity must be compared at level of the fleet."

IDTechEx sees a learning curve and initial high cost limiting take-up in the next three years before a growth phase begins after 2023.

More details can be found through buying the IDTechEx reports Mobile Robots and Drones in Material Handling and Logistics 2017-2037 and Agricultural Robots and Drones 2017-2027: Technologies, Markets, Players.


Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive the ATN e-newsletter, digital magazine and other offers we choose to share with you straight to your inbox

You can also follow our updates by joining our LinkedIn group or liking us on Facebook


Trucks For Hire | Forklifts For Hire | Cranes For Hire | Generators For Hire | Transportable Buildings For Hire