Published on October 11, 2021

VanAssist: the driverless delivery vehicle of the future

Test vehicle shows how efficiently driverless vehicles save walking and driving distances on parcel tours. The project focus is on supporting the human workforce. Test in normal traffic planned with VanAssist vehicle

DPD is shaping the future: innovative solutions are required to deal with the 40% increase in the number of parcels transported annually in Germany to around 5.7 billion by the year 2025. This is why the parcel service provider is actively working on new and sustainable delivery concepts to meet the growth in demand. VanAssist is the name of a cooperative project with partners from science and industry which aims to conserve personnel resources, relieve traffic density in conurbations and promote a reduction in emissions. The result is an autonomous electric delivery vehicle.

VanAssist: what the driverless delivery vehicle of the future could look like

During its development the partners involved focused on designing the autonomous vehicle in such a way that it can meet the constantly increasing demands on the last mile of parcel delivery. Above all the walking and driving distances involved in a parcel tour need to be optimised. Accordingly, thanks to intelligent navigation software the test vehicle is able to independently navigate to stopping points and react in real time to changes in the traffic situation.

The VanAssist test vehicle operates in the so-called "rendez vous mode". This means that the vehicle can cover the distance from the depot to the delivery area autonomously. The delivery driver only joins the vehicle at a predefined meeting point. Then, while the driver delivers the parcels the vehicle automatically drives to the next predefined stopping point. In this way the van is always waiting for the driver at the exact spot where he or she needs the next parcel or wants to be taken to the next address.

If the planned stopping point is not available, the vehicle informs the delivery driver via a specially programmed smartphone app about the alternative point where it will be waiting. The app's features also make it possible to flexibly adjust delivery routes as required. Indoor navigation has also been integrated, and quickly guides the driver to the delivery point inside the building in large office blocks or industrial complexes.

In the future, these functions will make the daily work of parcel delivery personnel much easier. They will no longer have to search for parking spaces and addresses, enabling them to concentrate fully on the actual delivery of the parcels to consignees.

VanAssist points to future requirements

For DPD Germany the VanAssist funding project has shown above all what developments are needed to integrate autonomous delivery vehicles into everyday operations.

Our tests have shown that we need a control centre which can intervene whenever something unforeseen happens on the tour that prevents the vehicle from deciding on its own what to do. This could be an obscured sensor or a blocked road, for example. We have realised that we need to fundamentally rethink our route planning. In future we will not just need to know the address to which we deliver a parcel, but also the nearby stopping points for this parcel which we can identify and store in the system.

Gerd Seber, Group Manager City Logistics & Sustainability at DPD Germany

Gerd Seber

Group Manager City Logistics & Sustainability at DPD Germany

For cities, too, there will be new challenges in the implementation of autonomous driving and delivery solutions. "On the one hand we need standardised intelligent traffic lights and traffic signs. On the other we need loading zones that can be reserved specifically for delivery vehicles to which our vans can navigate", says Seber. To enable further work and research on the topic of autonomous driving, as a next step the test vehicle is to be used on the road in a practical trial. So far it has only been possible to assess its performance on a university test site.


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