Sustainable logistics in Smart Cities

insights  April 11, 2018

Cities are changing with the arrival of new technologies. The cities of the future are Smart Cities: cities where digitalization and urbanization are leading[1]. All over the world urbanization is increasing and this comes with challenges and opportunities. In the digital revolution people seek for smart ways to cope with these challenges by using new technologies.

The logistics sector is one of the industries that must deal with these challenges and respond to opportunities the digitalization and urbanization bring. In 2025, it is estimated that a minimum of 500 million deliveries will be made in cities, daily[2]. We live in a world where everything needs to be faster and better. To optimize the quality of deliveries in Smart Cities and to enrich the consumer in a responsible and sustainable manner, there are several logistics developments in e-commerce.


The cities of the future are Smart Cities

Robot deliveries

One of these sustainable developments is robot delivery. This includes delivery with autonomous delivery robots and drone delivery. Worldwide, several companies have been using autonomous delivery robots. Starship Technologies, for instance, invented an autonomous robot that delivers meals and parcels in several cities. The Starship delivery robots have been used by, among others, Wolt and Dominos. Other companies that develop similar robots are Teleretail and Marble. An autonomous delivery robot can find its own way, through built-in navigation and it is aware of its surroundings through sensors and advanced anti-collision algorithms.

Another technological logistics development in e-commerce is drone delivery: the delivery of parcels using a drone. A well-known example of such a service is the Amazon Prime Air delivery service. The biggest advantage of drones compared to vans is speed and the 24 hour availability. However, a van can, on the other hand, profit from route density, which does not apply to drones.

Electric delivery vehicles

Other smart and sustainable developments are electric delivery vehicles. Through the deployment of electric vehicles in delivery, the emissions will be significantly reduced. This will benefit the air quality and climate. Also, electric vehicles provide less noise. An example of a company that applies this in the last mile is the Dutch company Picnic. Picnic developed its own electric vehicle, the E-worker, to deliver groceries in the Netherlands. It is a small electric vehicle and is therefore especially convenient for (inner) cities.

Another green vehicle that is being used more and more in the last mile is the electric bicycle. Both large and small companies now use electric bicycle messengers to deliver parcels in cities[3]. Electric bicycles are faster than regular bicycles, but still beneficial to the environment. The phenomenon of drop-off point delivery also uses electric bicycle messengers. With delivery via the drop-off points, an online purchase will be delivered to the edge of a city or district by car and from there a bicycle messenger takes over to bring the parcel to the consumer.


Data-driven freight transportation

Freight transportation is largely realized by road. As the roads become increasingly full, congestion occurs. The environment is also suffering from the increasing number of cars and trucks. The transport sector alone is responsible for about 25% of all CO2-emissions in the EU. This percentage must be reduced by as much as 60%[4]. Solutions to this distribution issue are truck platooning and other data-driven solutions for freight logistics.

Truck platooning is the concept of trucks that drive efficiently by linking them electronically into convoys1. The trucks are connected by GPS, Wi-Fi and radar. Through the Wi-Fi connection, the trucks have a wireless connection, and because of this they can read and respond to each other’s parameters[5]. How fast the trucks drive and which route they take, determines the front truck. The other trucks independently follow the front truck a few meters away. It creates more space on the road and decreases congestion and reduces emissions.

Other solutions are improving reliability of freight by installing signals that prioritize truck movement along freight corridors, providing truckers with real-time information on parking availability and truck routes and demonstrating the potential for automated and connected freight vehicles to make freight movements safer and more efficient[6].

Data-driven mobility

New technologies, such as automated and connected vehicles, will make transport and thus deliveries safer and it will reduce emissions and decrease congestion. Cities are pioneering to collect, integrate and analyze travel data to guide policies and investments, improve transparency, encourage collaboration and optimize system performance. Data-driven mobility can be achieved by installing closed-circuit cameras and sensors to collect data on vehicle movements, transit reliability, and pedestrian and bicycle traffic, by collecting data from vehicle probes, connected vehicles, and connected infrastructure and by establishing open data platforms and inviting citizens to participate in hackathons6.


 [1] Grip, S. (2014), Smart Cities: naar een ‘smart urban delta’. Ministerie van Infrastructuur en Milieu, pp. 1-24.
[2] Frost & Sullivan (2013), Delivering to the Cities of Tomorrow: Global Mega Trends and Impact on Future of Urban Logistics.
[3] (2015), Kansen voor online Retail voor het verlagen van hun milieu-impact.
[4] Rijkswaterstaat (2016), Efficienter rijden met ruck platooning.
[5] AMT (2015), Platooning volgende stap naar autonoom rijden?
[6] U.S. Department of Transportation (2016), Smart City Challenge.
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