21 Feb 19

Drones, Shuttles and other last mile quirks

In both logistics and mobility, the main issue remains the lack of enough “stations”, i.e. start- or end points of a delivery or a journey. Commonly called the “last mile challenge”, providers are trying to solve the question not by increasing the number of “stations”, but by inventing new modes of transport to cover the distance between the last station and the delivery location or arrival point of the user.


Chinese e-commerce company JD.com has been using drones for many years to deliver goods to consumers. The drones have 3 sets of 2 helixes (one on top of the other) and operate autonomously. JD.com has been experimenting with human-less tech for a while and deploys autonomous trucks, automated warehouses and unmanned stores in addition to the drones.

The Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten has recently announced a partnership with its Chinese counterpart to accelerate the development of drone deliveries in Japan as well. Rakuten has been testing drones since 2016, supported by the increased availability of 3D maps of major Japanese cities.


Even better than last mile solutions are the zero-mile solutions. In the mobility eco-system, this might refer to home-working, but in logistics, it’s all about storage. SoftBank’s 100 billion dollar Vision Fund has recently announced its investment in Clutter, a company that provides storage options for people with not enough space at home to keep certain items. The Clutter app can be used to have an item picked up, stored and returned.

SoftBank explains the investment by stating that the storage business is a traditional sector with much room for digitisation and innovation. Based in Japan, the SoftBank investors know the cost of space better than anyone, but also understand that Asia’s unstoppable urbanisation requires new storage solutions.

Public transit

The fact that in most countries, except the Singapores of this world, the demand for public transport is higher than the offering, creates a new profitable space for private initiatives, referred to as “public transit”. These private initiatives either organise like public transport (fixed stations, fixed schedule) or function on-demand.

Daimler-backed Via is one of latter; consumers can order a shared shuttle-ride, very similar to what Uber, Grab and other ride-hailers are offering. Different from these vendors however, Via accepts cash payment and is often used as a complement to public transport, rather than individualised like Uber Pool.

  1. based in the US, Via is now expanding into South-America with first operations in Brazil. 30 drivers and a fleet of 14-seater Mercedes-Benz vans will be transporting people in the city of Goiânia in collaboration with the city’s public transport network.
Authored by: Yves Helven