Field Test: DHL drivers test AI-powered voice assistant

The challenge: CEP volumes exploding amid driver shortages

2020 has been an unusual year for all of us, and especially the logistics industry. While the boom in online retail has been ensuring steady growth for a number of years now, the unwelcome onset of COVID-19 has increased the volume of goods out for delivery — especially in last mile delivery to the front door.

“This year [2020] we are expecting a parcel boom the like of which we have never seen before.” Frank Appel — DHL CEO

As reported in our recent article, the Last Mile parcel boom, this poses particular challenges for companies in the courier, express and parcel services (CEP) sector. Volumes are exploding and are under strong price pressure, experienced drivers are becoming scarce, while consumer expectations of fast, transparent and reliable delivery are becoming ever higher. A vicious circle has been created, and it is rapidly expanding.

The idea: Voice assistance for parcel drivers

Increasingly sophisticated route optimisation, more efficient vehicles and advancing digitalisation have made the existing infrastructure more powerful than ever. However the system is still susceptible to a key bottleneck: the driver. Drivers ultimately have to control the vehicle, process a lot of information, and of course carry parcels to the door.

The Last Mile Assistant in action
The Last Mile Assistant running on an Android tablet during field testing in Leicestershire.

The logistics partner: DHL Parcel UK

As a leading logistics provider, DHL Parcel UK are known to be progressive and technically well-positioned, with 50 hubs and over 2000 vehicles in the global DHL family. DHL have an extensive roadmap for advanced tech deployments in place across their fleet, so German Autolabs’ proposal — to support Last Mile drivers with a proactive assistance system — was warmly welcomed.

“A more efficient driver has an impact on all other key KPIs such as successful first delivery or time to stop.” Daniel Mieves, CPO and co-founder, German Autolabs.

A major DHL KPI to tackle is driver satisfaction. A good Last Mile driver is an extremely valuable commodity for a parcel fulfilment specialist. Churn rate in the industry is high, and stress levels are a contributing factor to new drivers not staying in the job.

The vehicle partner: Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

Voice assistance is a disruptive, forward-thinking and in many ways, revolutionary technology. We needed a partner who could not only provide vehicles to the highest standards of efficiency and reliability, but one who could help us to implement our proposed IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) solution.

“Voice assistance for drivers who drive for a living was the natural next step for us to explore together.” Artur Hasselbach — Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles

With VW on board, we could rapidly prototype and iterate our proposed solution in a real VW Crafter vehicle.

The Last Mile Assistant graphical user interface (GUI)

The product: Last Mile Assistant

After many interviews with drivers and technology stakeholders across the business process, it was clear that a Last Mile Assistant could effectively support drivers by cleverly combining information from various sources with a clear, simple user interface and focused announcements.

The GUI explained
  • Delivery or pick-up
  • Number of items
  • Delivery information stored by the customer
  • Defined secure locations.
The Voice UX logic flow

The field test: DHL Hub, Leicester

Three drivers from the DHL Parcel Hub in Leicester were on the road for a total of six weeks in two phases throughout September and October 2020, delivering some 7500 deliveries using the Last Mile Assistant integrated into the head unit of a VW Crafter. The routes covered all feasible types from inner-city to remote rural, and included both deliveries and collections for private and business customers — a real cross-section of everyday business.

“The field test clearly demonstrated that the Last Mile Assistant has so many knock-on effects down the whole logistics chain and adds value to the business. Our research showed that it was especially helpful for new starters. They can quickly learn unfamiliar areas, get into a well-working workflow and are more effective and less challenged with their new job as a result.”

Daniel Mieves — CPO and co-founder, German Autolabs.



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German Autolabs

German Autolabs

We build logistics voice assistance for mobile workers.