Delivery robots on sidewalks and autonomous vehicles: Research project for optimised supply chains in cities

Empty trucks are stuck in traffic jams and people use cars to drive to parcel lockers: Urban supply chains have a lot of potential to be made more sustainable and efficient. This is particularly noticeable in the run-up to Christmas, when more goods and parcels than usual are in circulation. A research project is now set to develop new optimisation tools.

For now, it’s still a utopian dream: Cities without vehicles causing noise, dirt, congestion and pollution. Autonomous vehicles, robots and drones would deliver goods in these cities. They would work together efficiently and sustainably. “In order to bring us closer to these utopian goals, we need to solve a large number of difficult, interlinked strategic and operational decision-making problems. Who drives where, who transports what, who delivers to whom, where are the distribution hubs, who drives when? These are just a few of the issues,” says Margaretha Gansterer. In collaboration with Belgian colleagues, she submitted the proposal “Sustainable city supply chains by collaboration and integrating the city perspective” to the leading public funding organisation for basic research in Belgium, the Research Foundation “Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek” (FWO), and the project was recently approved.

Margaretha Gansterer goes on to explain: “We need optimisation and simulation tools that support decision-making in this complex environment. Currently, these tools are scattered across the scientific literature in an incoherent manner and lack the maturity to support the emerging trends in urban logistics.” The research team is now hoping to close this gap and develop a comprehensive range of optimisation algorithms for cities and their supply chains. To this end, the aim is to achieve considerable progress in operations research tools, which, Gansterer adds, “should make a significant contribution to increasing understanding of the impact of new technologies, trends and strategies for all players involved in urban logistics. If we succeed in this, we can make an important contribution to creating more sustainable cities.”