Innovations & Start-ups: Drones, Robots, Boring Stuff, and More…

Martijn Graat
Martijn Graat

Trends and innovations in supply chain and logistics: that is what this blog is all bout. Therefore I periodically bring you an overview of the news on logistics start-ups and innovations below. Follow @LogisticsMatter on Twitter to stay updated with the latest news and the best background stories. The previous edition was Innovations & Start-ups: Robots, Self-Driving Trucks, the Metaverse and More… This edition has news about last-mile delivery by drone, robots in the warehouse, electric vehicles, and news on several interesting start-ups and innovations.

Robots in the Sky

Both Wing and Amazon have announced additions to their pilot program for drone delivery. Wing wants to expand its delivery zone, and Amazon has finally announced that it will start last-mile delivery via drone. In the meantime, not everybody is optimistic about the developments.

On Wing:

Alphabet-backed Wing has proposed adding a public delivery zone, similar to ones it operates in Finland and Australia, to open up drone delivery to more people. Customers who order from within Wing’s current customer base will be able to pick up their deliveries at the delivery one, regardless of where they live within the city.

“This public delivery zone is an intermediate step so we can bring the services to more people while we work toward [broader expansion],” Nick Devereux, Wing’s policy and governmental affairs manager, said during the May 24 meeting.

Wing wants to add public drone delivery zone in Virginia

On Amazon:

Amazon is taking steps to get its long-delayed drone delivery project off the ground. The company announced that it would launch its inaugural drone delivery service in the town of Lockeford, California, later this year after it receives the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Drone deliveries were supposed to revolutionize the movement of goods around cities, with companies like Amazon, Wing, and Uber promising to set up large-scale operations in the near future. Instead, the technology has mainly focused on small-scale experiments, delivering vaccines and blood to remote locations. In the US, drone delivery has generally been limited to smaller towns, where land usage is less crowded and complex.

Amazon’s troubled drone delivery project is finally taking off

Not everybody is optimistic about drones as a feasible means of solving the last-mile delivery challenge.

Tech enthusiasts have been predicting the mass adoption of drone delivery for several years now, but none have yet managed to overcome safety concerns or the need for UAVs to integrate with other air traffic. Their main non-military use has been to fly urgent shipments such as medicines to remote areas or offshore islands, where conflict with other air traffic is less of an issue.

Middle-mile drone company Dronamics has obtained the European Union’s Light UAS Operator Certificate that will allow it to self-authorise flight operations of its Black Swan aircraft including Beyond Visual Line Of Sight operations from the Island of Malta to various countries around the Mediterranean…

Drones still just a California dream, says technologist

“Dronamics is focusing on the middle mile. The last mile is better done by road.” Dronamics’ Founder Svilen Rangelov told LogisticsMatter.

Robots in the Warehouse

A new robot start-up has managed to land an Amazon robotics VP, a great name, and a killer URL.

But after 13 years of rising in the ranks to become the vice president and distinguished engineer of Amazon Robotics, Brad Porter opted to step away in August 2020. In a discussion with TechCrunch, the executive cited his young family and wanting to be closer to his wife’s relatives in the Bay Area as factors. Porter spent just under 2 years as the CTO of Scale AI, before launching his own venture this March.

The project — which has, thus far, been listed as “More to Come” on his LinkedIn profile — comes out of stealth today, alongside a $10 million raise, led by Neo and featuring Khosla Ventures, Calibrate Ventures and 1984 Ventures. Based in Santa Clara, California, the brand-new startup managed to snag the extremely simple name Collaborative Robotics and the accompanying URL, — a reference to the commonly used portmanteau abbreviation, cobot.

Former Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter goes Collaborative

More news on robots in the warehouse:

Start-ups and Supply Chain Innovations

Elon Musk’s Boring Company tunnels could be used as underground distribution networks to get goods into cities without using its streets, which usually are too full of traffic already, without any goods moving through the city by road.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has received unanimous approval to expand its system of tunnels beneath downtown Las Vegas. The expansion will add stops at landmarks like the Stratosphere and Fremont Street, letting customers hop aboard a Tesla and travel from one part of the city to the next.

Boring Company receives approval for expanding its tunnels to downtown Las Vegas

Google will use its Maps Platform to move into last-mile delivery and fleet management.

Google is bringing a bevy of Maps data and a familiar navigation interface to a space that has seen increased attention as home delivery demand has boomed. U.S. parcel volumes surpassed 21.5 billion in 2021, compared to pre-pandemic levels of 15.5 billion in 2019, according to the Pitney Bowes Parcel Shipping Index.

More effective route planning and execution has become critical in response to the rising number of packages. Since the last mile is the most expensive and least efficient step of the delivery process, avoiding misses like an inaccurate address is critical, said Shalin Mantri, group product manager at Google Maps Platform, who oversees its transportation and logistics vertical. Fleet operators receive addresses in varying states of quality, and it is one of the top causes of delivery failure, he said.

Google’s jump into fleet management tech buoyed by Maps data

Some start-ups land new funding and are cutting down on the workforce at the same time.

A bevy of tech startups have laid off employees and larger giants are slowing or halting hiring altogether, with a number of macroeconomic conditions including rising inflation causing concern for companies across sectors. Venture capitalists are advising tech companies to cut expenses and extend their cash runways. Stitch Fix and Bird are among those that also announced layoffs this week.

Even unicorn startups — those valued at above $1 billion — are not immune to market forces, including companies that just raised huge swaths of cash such as Convoy.

Convoy, which just raised $260M, lays off 7% of workforce in latest tech startup cuts

Electric vehicles are still more expensive than their fuel-powered counterparts. This is not withholding many companies from choosing more sustainable solutions for transporting their goods from A to B.

Companies like Amazon and food-delivery services such as DoorDash and Instacart will drive a faster adoption to EVs, RedBlue partners Olaf Sakkers and Prescott Watson say. Ride-hailing outfits, taxis, transit buses and corporate shuttles also will play a part, considering such operators are cautious about the total cost of ownership and use the vehicles a great deal more, making the economics of EVs attractive to them.

Electrifying Delivery Fleets Is One Solution to World’s Car Obesity Problem

And how about charging your electric vehicle just by driving it?

Auto giant Stellantis is testing a potential solution for these issues in the form of a wireless charging technology that does the job as you drive.

The parent company of well-known brands such as Fiat, Jeep, and Chrysler said the Dynamic Wireless Power Transfer (DWPT) technology — developed by Israeli firm Electreon — uses coils placed under a road to charge a compatible vehicle as it drives over it.

This EV charging tech does the job as you drive

In Other News

Header Image by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

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