The ‘last mile’ – using tech to simplify deliveries in the Estonian public sector

Europe is continuing to struggle through skyrocketing commodity prices, driven by pandemic-related inflation, and the onset of war in Ukraine. In the midst of all this, one Estonian company points out that costs can be brought down by making the transport of goods more efficient – particularly during the ‘last-mile’ leg of their journey from manufacturer to consumer.

Writing for GovTech Europe, Edith Väli of robotics and logistics firm Cleveron explains more.

“Last mile” describes the last part of the delivery process – the point where the parcel arrives to the customer. It can be the moment the courier hands the parcel over to them, leaves it at the front porch or when the customer picks up their order from the pickup point.

It is the costliest part of the delivery process since it is so labour-intense. Due to general demographic shifts, changes in the labour market and the simple attractiveness of certain types of jobs; also raising costs of the upkeep of the infrastructure, it is getting more and more expensive each year.

This, however, does not match the customers’ expectations. Growing competition has raised the bar high on free and instant delivery, so you can’t charge delivery fees that will cover the actual cost of the delivery. Therefore, there are two options – raise the prices on goods, if you can; or make the last mile as effective as possible to cut the cost associated with it.

WORKING IN THE ESTONIAN PUBLIC SECTOR

Cleveron has a close relationship with different state departments, and thanks to our e-governance, everything is very smooth when doing business in Estonia. All the tax and company declarations, employee information (sick leaves, work register, etc.) is done online and via different matching databases, so there is minimal amount of bureaucracy.

In general, the state is there for the entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurs like to interact with the state. For example – Cleveron is doing business globally and that also brings different tax related questions. The help is always one phone call away.

We consider ourselves an innovator in our field and in many ways, we are supported by different state agencies. The departments are open to dialogue and not afraid of trying innovative approaches.

We’re currently developing a self-driving robot courier and thanks to the cooperation with the Estonian Road Administration, we are the first company in Europe that has a licence to test drive the vehicle on public roads all over Estonia.

The legislation for autonomous vehicles still needs to catch up with real life developments, and this is one of the main obstacles for companies like us all over the world. But in Estonia, we have worked closely together and thankfully, the state is supporting new and innovative ventures.

We are also working in close cooperation with many Estonian embassies in our target countries, and this facilitates business diplomacy.


An example of the ‘robot courier’ prototype that now operates in Estonia

THE ‘ROBOT COURIER’

Cleveron Mobility team is developing the semi-autonomous robot courier, which will help to make the last mile even more efficient by allowing one driver to operate up to ten delivery vehicles at a time. We expect that these kinds of semi-autonomous solutions will be on the roads far quicker than fully autonomous vehicles since they are easier to deploy given the legal and safety restrictions.

Another one of our solutions, Cleveron 402, was launched a few years back but is still making waves thanks to the innovative smart storage system. E-commerce has experienced immense growth due to the pandemic, which has also resulted in vast amounts of parcels retailers and logistics companies must sort, store, and deliver.

This has created a shortage of storage space. The Cleveron 402 parcel robot is highly efficient storage since the parcels are inserted quickly through one user console. They are measured automatically and stored accordingly to their actual height on moving trays, not fixed shelves.

This gives you an immense saving on storage space, so a retailer can use the rest of the floor as retail space, which brings revenue. Cleveron 402 also acts as a self-service pickup point for the customer; it is easy to use, and customers can get their orders in under 1 minute and without any additional help. Now, we are seeing that the demand for this solution, capable of storing over 1000 parcels at once, is growing rapidly.

A TEMPLATE FOR EUROPE?

Cleveron started out as a logistics company – SmartPost – and we created our own smart locker to establish the first state-wide smart locker network in Estonia already 15 years ago. Today, we are not a logistics company anymore, but we see how the trend has taken off.


“Fixed pick-up points at convenient locations, supported by able tech systems, work far better for last-mile delivery, Edith says.”

Estonia has three state-wide locker networks by three different operators and some smaller ones as well. Over 80% of all parcels in Estonia are picked up via a smart locker since it is the most convenient method for customers. They are everywhere, and the outdoor ones are available 24/7.

If you leave out Poland and Finland (The Finnish Post bought our SmartPost network), the rest of Europe is only starting to discover the advantages a locker network provides. We hope that we are showing the way for other countries as well, since lockers are a better solution for our environment than vast fleets of polluting delivery vans, driving all day around the city. And it will save time for everyone.

Just imagine: if, on average, you order 2 parcels per month. Each time, you have to wait at home during a 1-hour window for the courier to show up – not being able to leave your house, plan meetings or a workout. This means that, in one year, you will spend 24 hours for waiting for a parcel.

Picking a parcel up from a locker located in front of your supermarket, where you do your shopping anyway, takes less than 1 minute. So, in one year, it will come down to 24 hours versus 24 minutes for getting a parcel. A full day and night versus half an hour. And this is what these kinds of solutions can offer to everyone. They save time. 

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