This is Patent Pending. Supply-chain-related patent applications are published every day and this is where we'll talk about the ones that could have the biggest impact on the supply chain in addition to the ones that challenge the norm. Read the previous issue here.
Calculating how to use AVs with manual delivery vehicles
Companies continue to drum up ideas for autonomous vehicles and how they can effectively serve the last mile of delivery in tandem with other vehicles — self-driving or otherwise. But while many focus on the hardware and navigation aspects of this emerging innovation, not enough are looking into other aspects of maximizing a delivery route's efficiency using AVs, according to a UPS patent application.
"For example, selecting an appropriate delivery time and delivery route may significantly impact delivery efficiency, and accordingly additional innovation is needed to enable autonomous vehicles to efficiently deliver items to various locations," said the application, published Nov. 17.
The proposed patent's solution? Systems and methods to determine whether it makes more sense to complete a delivery from a manually operated vehicle or through an AV.
One flowchart included with the application shows how it could work, with a drone being the AV in question. First, drone-eligible shipments are identified based on qualities such as size, weight and value. Then, it determines deliveries that the drone could reach in the same or a shorter amount of time that a manual vehicle could. If any shipments fit that criteria, the system will then set the delivery location for the drone.
"Establishing a particular manual delivery serviceable point as a launch location may be done dynamically and in real-time, based on the estimated elapsed delivery time at a particular serviceable point," per the application. “...Alternatively, various manual delivery serviceable points may be pre-selected as autonomous vehicle launch locations."
- Amazon rolls out delivery route algorithm to reduce miles driven
- Drones and delivery trucks could work together, but regulatory hurdles remain
- UPS testing drones that launch from delivery vehicles on routes
Drones get an intermodal ride, repairs
Vehicles beyond vans and box trucks can be used in tandem with delivery drones if a patent application from Amazon becomes reality.
The filing, published Dec. 22, envisions drones launching from in-transit "intermodal carriers" on trains, containerships, trucks or other vehicles. These intermodal carriers, which are similar in appearance to intermodal shipping containers, could be equipped with systems for loading, launching and retreiving the drone.
These capabilities may help efforts to forward-deploy inventory to regions where demand for a specific item is expected to jump, as they can shorten the time and distance required to deliver the relevant orders to customers.
"For example, in advance of a release of a new book, a new video game or a new mobile device, an intermodal carrier vehicle of the present disclosure may be loaded with a plurality of the books, the video games or the mobile devices along with one or more aerial vehicles and placed in motion along an axis or in a direction associated with the anticipated demand," the application said.
The container devices could also serve as a maintenance center for the drones during transport. They may be loaded with replacement parts or inspection equipment, and be equipped with the ability to conduct repairs, servicing operations and inspections. Having mobile maintenance facilities on board could help reduce the time a drone is out of service, the application says.
"Every hour in which an aerial vehicle is out-of-service is an hour in which the aerial vehicle is not providing value," it added.