Professor Clausen, you’ve produced a major study called “The Last Mile”. Ms. Kaarlep, your company builds delivery robots, which are named in the study as one transport option. What were your approaches in these two areas?
Clausen: On the one hand, we were confronted by developments that have been trending for a long time now and can be extrapolated into the future. On the other hand, we were looking at developments — including delivery robots — that didn’t exist last year. The factors that are changing the last mile and the solutions for dealing with it are the framework conditions prevalent in large cities. They include air pollution control, the requirements regarding battery-electric vehicles and demand-related questions such as: What kind of service ideas exist? Do people want same-day delivery? This is a new type of logistics that can process data very rapidly.
Kaarlep: When we developed our delivery robots, two aspects were important. We had a team that had developed robots tasked with collecting and returning planetary soil samples for the NASA contest “NASA Centennial Challenge”. We thought about where else this idea could be implemented. It arose from a particular spirit — some of the founders of Starship Technologies had developed Skype, which is a disruptive communication technology. They wondered in which industries no disruption had taken place as yet.
What’s the idea behind the delivery robots?
Kaarlep: In this initial phase, we’re doing business with the idea itself. The robots are only a means to an end. We’re building them and teaching them how to function on the street. This is a logistics concept with a background in robotics. Our robots are 99 per cent autonomous, and if something unexpected happens, they can hand over the controls to a human being.
Clausen: Delivery robots are a response to a demand orientation and the call for greater flexibility in terms of time. We’re dealing with consumer behaviour that is not evenly distributed throughout the day.
Where, and for which goods, can these robots be used?
Clausen: It’s not efficient to send out such small robots over distances of 40 or 50 kilometres. You need a certain delivery density and an infrastructure. And of course you also need acceptance by the public. As a result, a number of questions definitely have to be addressed before delivery robots can be put into regular service.
Kaarlep: In our studies of public acceptance, we found out something amazing during our field trials. Between 80 and 90 per cent of people ac-tually completely ignore the robots. And the people who give them a sec-ond look react surprisingly positively. Our robots can transport payloads weighing up to ten kilograms. They deliver packages, food and ordered meals. These are the three areas we’re working on at the moment.
Mr. Clausen, you’ve calculated that robots could deliver around 400 million packages a year in Germany. How did you reach this figure?
Clausen: We tried to estimate the size of the market. In relation to the number of households in Germany, which is about 40 million and in-creasing, that’s ten deliveries per year and household on average.