Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

Top 2018 themes in last mile innovation


2018 was a monumental year for the transportation industry. From existing companies unveiling innovative solutions, to new companies announcing next-generation technologies, it seemed as if a new offering was introduced to the market every day. Why? To provide the winning solution that meets consumer demands and revolutionizes the last mile.

In today’s digital era, it’s clear that consumers expect convenient, fast, and personalized experiences in nearly every aspect of their lives, including how they shop for and receive products. To remain successful, it’s critical that transportation companies are always one step ahead, implementing the next big thing to redefine the consumer journey. 

Last year, the industry made significant steps forward, providing a glimpse into the advanced solutions that will transform delivery services for years to come. Below are the top trends leading the race in last-mile innovation. 

Emphasis on energy efficiency 

To excel in this rapidly evolving landscape, it’s important that companies continuously reassess processes and implement changes in real time. When it comes to fleet management, this is especially true. To succeed, companies not only have to maintain operations, but they must also place consumer preferences at the epicenter of all company decisions.

Last year, both FedEx and UPS identified the need for more cost-effective and energy-efficient last-mile solutions. First, FedEx unveiled its pilot program to test a hydrogen fuel cell, zero-emission delivery van, which allows drivers to reach more customers and reduce time wasted spent refueling. In addition, UPS announced a partnership with technology company Arrival to develop a pilot fleet of electric vehicles. With zero tailpipe emissions and a range of 150 miles, the trucks will be outfitted with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to help identify driver fatigue and improve overall safety. 

Strategic partnerships 

Another trend we’ve seen recently is top retailers investing in in-house delivery programs. Keeping innovation top-of-mind, many brands are partnering with, or acquiring, prominent technology companies to up level their delivery offerings and reinvigorate the consumer experience. Walmart, for example, recently partnered with delivery logistics platform Bringg, to develop Spark Delivery. The program, still in a pilot stage, leverages a crowdsourced model, allowing drivers to list their availability and be matched with online grocery orders and navigational information. Likewise, Target announced at the end of 2018 that Shipt, its same-day delivery service, will expand into new product categories, bringing items to consumers within as little as one hour.  

Advancements in autonomous delivery 

In recent years, discussions around autonomous technology have flooded the market, being hailed by some as the perfect solution for last-mile deliveries. However, it will likely be some time before we see self-driving trucks completely take over the roads. While developers are hard at work to refine the technology and develop smart roadways, many companies have entered the market with smaller-scale offerings. 

In 2018, for example, DoorDash partnered with Cruise to bring driverless vehicles to San Francisco to complete orders, and Kroger released a pilot program to test autonomous delivery in select areas. Also, Alibaba unveiled a new robot that will carry deliveries to consumers, featuring a storage locker that can only be opened with facial recognition, while Renault discussed plans to develop an autonomous fleet that will hold robo-pods to reduce traffic and urban congestion. 

Developments in drone technology

Lately, there has also been a lot of conversation around drone technology and its impact on the last mile. While drones present unmatched benefits to the transportation industry, such as the ability to reach rural areas faster, easier, and safer than traditional fleet delivery methods, we’re still years away from mainstream use. However, several companies recently indicated they’re working on advancing the technology and overcoming regulatory hurdles, revealing plans to implement drones for last-mile deliveries in the future.

For example, Israeli-based Flytex announced $7.5 million in funding last year, which the company shared will be used to improve its existing drone delivery technology and launch a pilot program in North Carolina to test deliveries from restaurants to companies. Also, Alphabet’s Inc Wing unit shared a new concept that is aimed at tracking drones with advanced software applications, giving operators and government agencies access to real-time data that could help overcome some regulatory hurdles.  

What’s ahead 

While advancing the last mile was a major focus in 2018, there’s no signs of the industry slowing down any time soon. At the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas earlier this month, many companies introduced both new solutions and plans that will further disrupt processes and bring new innovations to the market. Some of the most prominent: Segway’s durable electric scooter and autonomous delivery bot, Ford’s self-driving delivery pilot program with Postmates, and Continental’s robo dogs.

As technology continues to develop, it’s evident that traditional practices of getting goods to the consumer will be completely disrupted. Before we know it, ordinary solutions that have been in place for decades will be uprooted and replaced with remarkable services that are difficult to even fathom, let alone implement. 

Therefore, to keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving landscape, it’s critical fleets have a strong pulse on new offerings and implement the solutions that are right for their unique needs. And, while this could seem daunting, fleets can lean on solution providers for assistance. To ensure success, fleets should work with their customer support teams to continuously identify specific needs, select available services to resolve gaps and streamline operations, seamlessly implement solutions, train employees, provide educational resources, and more.