Written by Thembani Magazi – February 03, 2020
Reviewed by Asaf Kedem
Last mile delivery is a highly innovative sector in the automotive industry at the moment. According to Business Insider, a product's journey starts at the warehouse shelf and ends with the “last mile” of delivery, when the package finally arrives at the buyer’s door. In addition to being a key to customer satisfaction, last mile delivery is both the most expensive and time-consuming part of the shipping process. One company, Academy of Robotics, and their autonomous, artificially intelligent vehicle, the Kar-go, is seeking to minimise these costs in a unique and innovative way, using self-driving technology to help communities in Surrey, United Kingdom.
The Academy of Robotics claims to have devised an elegant solution to the complex problem that uses the power of new technologies to positively impact society. In late January, the team began driving the Kar-go delivery bot in Surrey to scan the proposed delivery routes, in preparation for using the vehicle to make semi-autonomous deliveries from mid-February. This will give it the prestigious title of being Europe’s first road-worthy autonomous delivery vehicle. The AI was designed and tested with multiple fail-safe layers and, in line with current regulations for testing autonomous vehicles, there will be a safety driver in the vehicle at all times. The Academy team will gradually increase the degree of autonomy used as the trials progress.
How it started:
The Academy of Robotics was founded by graduates and professors from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales. Academy of Robotics then developed and patented a specialist form of AI for Kar-go’s operating system, showing how seamlessly AI and automotive can blend together in today’s competitive global market. The Kar-go delivery bot made its global debut at the high-profile Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it was driven autonomously on a timed run, up the famed Goodwood hill. Already a promising start in the eyes of motoring enthusiasts.
How it works:
The futuristic green bot, Kar-go, focuses on small shoe-sized parcels, where delivery could account for a third of the price of the item. Most of that cost is found in the “last mile,” delivering from a depot to a home, and Kar-go seeks to reduce this cost by up to 90%. These costs typically encompass labour costs, paying drivers, the cost of fuel and the vehicle costs for maintaining fleets of vans. This combination makes the last mile the most expensive part of the delivery process, and these costs are what the Kar-go aims to eliminate by being fully electric and autonomous. The vehicle is said to be designed for use in city-centres, suburban and rural locations—which requires a great ability to deal with various scenarios on roads, especially busy cities.
Kar-go uses artificial intelligence to navigate itself and perform many of its functions, and once trials are completed, will be capable of performing them without human contact. It uses algorithms based on evolution, which can learn and 'self-optimise' in real-time, to make the best decisions and ensure that multiple fail-safe layers are in place. The team behind the bot wants the project to be a cleaner alternative to diesel vans and, while the electric powertrain of just under 100km doesn’t sound like much, it is certainly more than enough for the average delivery round. As more trial locations (other than Surrey) for this vehicle are planned, Kar-Go is likely going to become a prominent player in autonomous delivery in the years to come.
Auto Trendy’s take
A few years ago, Chinese startup Neolix also began mass production of its own autonomous vans, while in Houston, Domino's Pizza partnered with self-driving company Nuro to deliver takeaway food to customers' doors. Companies like Tesla and Amazon have taken strides into this innovative sector and even Ford has a two-legged delivery robot called the Digit—bringing buyers their deliveries stress-free. These are but a few of the many companies investing in contactless and autonomous delivery and this branch of automotive is likely to take off this year, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve written before here on Automotive Trendy about the developments in the field of autonomous vehicles and are thrilled every time an ambitious brand pushes the envelope of what’s possible with current tech. We cannot wait to see the legislation (both in the UK and around the world) evolve to allow for fully autonomous travel, whether it be to transport shoe-box sized parcels or human passenger cargo. We will share all of these innovations with you.