Taking a LEAD in on-demand city logistics

By Dr. Beatriz Royo and Dr. Spyridon Lekkakos

Leer versión en español


Even before the upswing in e-commerce caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it was clear that there was an urgent need for new strategies and approaches to the problems of on-demand freight logistics and ‘last mile’ deliveries in urban areas. LEAD, a new, EU Horizon 2020 funded project in which ZLC is taking a prominent role, was launched in June to explore possible solutions.

LEAD stands for “Low-Emission Adaptive last mile logistics supporting ‘on Demand economy’ through digital twins”. The project recognises that last mile delivery systems, large and small, are, as demand soars, struggling to meet the consumer’s expectations and businesses need for fast and responsive delivery at low or zero additional cost. At the same time cities and their inhabitants face a range of potential negative consequences from this increase in delivery activity – high emissions in particular, but also congestion, loss of amenity in shared public spaces, and other effects. Regulations have a role, but there are few market incentives for businesses to create more sustainable delivery systems.

LEAD aims to bring together all stakeholders – retailers and logistics providers, city authorities and urban planners, consumers and other users of the public space, to develop, implement and evaluate new scenarios for urban fulfilment. These will involve innovative business models that can optimise last mile performance despite volatility in demand, delivery life cycles and costs; agile schemes for freight storage and distribution that may include crowdsourcing, capacity sharing, and Physical Internet – inspired approaches; an emphasis on low emission delivery vehicles (electric, hybrid, hydrogen), bicycles, pedestrians, and automated solutions such as delivery robots; all driven by smart and connected data. This agenda is very much in line with the EU ‘Green Deal’ objectives and the Strategic Transport Research and Innovation Agenda.

The LEAD approach begins by building a deep understanding of the urban freight delivery models in use in the subject area, and collating as much relevant data as possible. This is used to create ‘digital twins’. A digital twin is a dynamic emulation of an urban area, capturing every relevant facet from street plans to traffic flows and other historical and real time operational and city data. The digital twins incorporate advanced technologies such as predictive analytics and decision-making methods, and a dynamic data-driven application system manages co-ordination of model and data in real time.

Stakeholders will co-create plausible and innovative last mile solutions and value cases, and these different strategies can be simulated, separately or in combination, to assess their impacts and effectiveness. Stakeholders can observe the results, modify the scenarios (and enhance the digital model if there are factors it is not capturing adequately) and run new simulations. This means that when the scenarios are implemented and validated ‘in real life’ there is a high confidence that they will operate more or less as expected.

Digital twins are being built for six ‘living lab’ cities – Madrid, The Hague, Lyon, Porto, Budapest and Oslo – selected to reflect some of the diversity of European cities. ZLC’s role in LEAD is to co-ordinate the work of the living labs, supporting them in developing their business scenarios and combining different logistics methods. We will also be working with them to develop appropriate KPIs and qualitative evaluations – environmental, economic and social – which can be applied to the digital simulations and later to the implementations on the ground.

The six living labs are exploring different combinations of logistics strategies and techniques. Madrid, for example, is installing a zero-inventory cross-docking micro-platform to tranship between below-3.5 tonne CNG or hybrid powered trucks/vans and a range of distribution vehicles which may include gas, hybrid or electric vans, and electric carts, scooters, tricycles or quadricycles, delivering to hoe addresses and parcel lockers. Software will optimise and synchronise routes and operations, and attention is being given to the provision of fast electric charging points.

The Hague is partnering with both DHL and home delivery specialist Nimber to look at different combinations of urban consolidation centres (UCC) and CIDs (central innovation districts – mobility hubs that bring together consumers/passengers and carriers) both with and without parcel locker systems. In Lyon there will be experiments with autonomous delivery vehicles and automated lockers, an ‘Urban Logistics Space’, and also the use of the river for urban logistics, as well as optimisation of logistics to construction sites.

Budapest is to examine both an urban consolidation centre, and a more simple cross-dock facility (which could be permanent or mobile), as well as electric, CNG and hydrogen fuel cell trucks. In Oslo, crowdshipping is one scenario, as is a consumer-to-consumer parcels service. Parcel lockers will be trialled at metro stations. Finally, Porto is creating UCCs with electric charging stations supporting various combinations of vehicle types, and mixes of B2B, B2C home delivery, and B2C food (‘takeaway’) deliveries.

By the end of the three-year project it is hoped that the experience will lead to the design of a more generally applicable open, physical Internet – inspired framework for the creation and deployment of large-scale digital twins to support Smart City Logistics.

For more information visit www.leadproject.eu. or email [email protected].