This Week in Logistics News (October 7 – 13)

This was a disappointing sports week around these parts. On Monday, the Red Sox were oh so close to forcing a deciding game 5 in the American League Division Series against the Houston Astros, only to have their bullpen implode and blow a late game lead. This, of course, lead to their second straight opening round loss in the playoffs, and the firing of manager John Farrell. Also on Monday, I took my son to his first Bruins game. His excitement level was through the roof, especially considering we had 6th row seats. Well, the Bruins came out as flat as could be, and were blown out by the Colorado Avalanche. At the very least, there was a nice scrum directly in front of us that he enjoyed. To top things off, the US Men’s National Soccer Team lost a heartbreaker to Trinidad which eliminated the team from World Cup 2018 qualifying. This marks the first time since 1986 that the team failed to qualify. Talk about a disappointing week.

And now, on to the news.

The latest battle between Walmart and Amazon has begun. Walmart is seeking to leverage its brick and mortar presence to handle online returns. The goal is to make the returns process as simple and fast as possible – Walmart is hoping the process will last than a minute. Starting next month, Walmart customers can start the returns process through the company’s mobile app before bringing the item to a store. At that point, customers will scan a barcode with their smartphone and then hand off the item at a designated express lane at the customer service desk. The program, called Mobile Express Returns, will handle items sold and shipped by Walmart.com.

Amazon is on the move too. The company’s latest plan is to partner with Phrame, a maker of smart license plates, to allow items to be delivered directly to your car’s trunk. Phrame’s product fits around a license plate and contains a secure box that holds the keys to the car. Users unlock the box with their smartphone, and can grant access to others — such as delivery drivers — remotely. Amazon is also looking at developing a “smart doorbell” device, which allows delivery drivers one-time access to a customer’s home. This comes on the heels of Walmart’s partnership with smart lock maker August to trial a delivery program that allows packages to be left inside a customer’s house rather than on the doorstep.

Flirtey has made news in the past for their drone deliveries. Flirtey is a privately held company based in Reno, Nevada, which builds and operates drones to make deliveries that are needed in humanitarian and health work, retail, and food industries. The company has now announced a partnership with REMSA, a community-integrated emergency medical services provider to launch the first automated external defibrillator (AED) drone delivery service in the United States. Through the partnership, when REMSA’s 911 communications center receives a cardiac arrest call, in addition to dispatching an ambulance, a Flirtey drone, carrying an AED will soon also be dispatched to the scene of the emergency. By delivering an AED to the scene of a cardiac arrest within minutes of a 911 call being received, Flirtey and REMSA will decrease the time that passes between the call and the application of an AED to the victim, increasing their odds of survival.

The Belgian Post Group (bpost), announced the acquisition of Radial, the fulfilment company formerly known as eBay enterprise, for $820 million. Radial is one of Amazon’s biggest competitors for fulfillment in the US, which is big for the European company. This move is in line with bpost’s recent growth strategy. Over the last year and a half, the company has acquired a number of smaller delivery companies both in freight and last-mile delivery both in North America and Europe to expand its economies of scale. They have included buying somewhat anonymous-sounding but actually huge companies like Freight Distribution Management, as well as more consumer-focused businesses like Matt’s Express and Apple Express.

The USPS is getting ready to jump into the autonomous truck discussion. According to the postal service’s Office of the Inspector General, which oversees the agency, the USPS plans to put semiautonomous mail trucks into service in just seven years. Additionally, the agency does not see the use of semiautonomous trucks shedding mail carrier jobs. The post office has partnered with the University of Michigan to build what it’s calling an Autonomous Rural Delivery Vehicle, which it wants to launch on 28,000 rural routes nationwide as early as 2025. According to the plan, the postal worker will sit behind the wheel, but will be able to sort mail and make deliveries while the truck rolls down the street.

And finally, count Deutsche Post DHL in for the race for autonomous trucks. While the USPS is hoping to go semiautonomous by 2025. Deutsche Post DHL Group wants to put trucks on the road in partnership with auto supplier ZF by 2018, using electric light transport vehicles equipped with ZF’s Nvidia-based ProAI self-driving system. DPDHL will help make this happen staring now, by equipping its fleet of 3,400 electric delivery StreetScooter vehicles with ZF sensors, including video cameras, as well as LiDAR and radar. The data gathered by these vehicles will help inform ZF’s ProAI self-driving system, teaching the AI to be able to navigate itself along the delivery routes handled by DPDHL once its autonomous trucks are ready to come to market.

That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones.