A stroll through the city of the future

Delivery that's ever faster, more flexible, and cheaper... the explosion of e-commerce and increasing consumer expectations are forcing cities to rethink how they organise their logistics. Towards a cleaner, smarter and more appealing city. It’s going to involve urban innovation!

What if the sci-fi writers were wrong? What if the cities of tomorrow didn't turn out to resemble the sprawling, polluted and inegalitarian megalopolises of Blade Runner and the Fifth Element, but were instead human sized cities that were both clean and easy to live in, as in the utopia dreamed of by Thomas More?

 

The creative buzz happening around cities makes you want to believe it: urban farms capable of supplying residents "hyper locally", driverless vehicles, bioluminescent lighting, an ultra-fast train bringing Limoge to within 40 minutes of Paris, smart parking spaces, pollution sensors, smart bins to reduce the number of bin collection rounds... innovation is happening everywhere. In all areas and in all manner of forms. But what's behind it? The municipalities, of course, but also an entire ecosystem bringing together start-ups, researchers, artists, web giants, longstanding players and companies looking to diversify their offering.

#CréativitéEnVille

And La Poste is one of them. After a fourth year running at the Consumer Electronics Show, the tech mecca held each winter in Las Vegas, the Group is holding the 9th edition of its Lab Postal. The theme? "Business Odyssey". Or how to develop your sensitivity in order to become a creative entrepreneur. A wide-ranging programme for start-ups with huge ambitions. Last year, visitors had the opportunity to discover a prototype smart mailbox, which can tell the postal worker when it is full, and can be opened with a key sent via the Hercules mobile app, an exoskeleton created by logistics company RB3D that can effortlessly carry several dozen pounds in weight, and the Sweet-Fit, a smart changing room allowing shoppers to try on clothes for sale online, without undressing, simply by standing in front of the mirror. All these small inventions can help to avoid unnecessary journeys by postal workers, limit returns of parcels, and improve efficiency as a result.

 

Having placed urban logistics at the core of its strategic development for 2020, the challenge for La Poste is to improve the management of freight transport.

« ¼ of CO2 emissions are caused by the transport of goods in mainland France »

The last mile in sight

The subject is a crucially important one. By 2025, some 300,000 parcels a day are expected to be delivered in the French capital alone. That’s three times more than in 2017. Added to this are the increasing demands of consumers, who want to pick up their parcels quickly, where and when they want, within their chosen timeframe and at a lower cost. In order to remain competitive, professionals have to adapt, ​​increasing the size of their warehouses, their fleet of vehicles, and their hours of delivery. This shift isn’t without its consequences. According to the Ademe, the transport of goods is responsible for 10 to 20% of traffic in mainland France, a quarter of CO2 emissions, a third of the emissions of nitrogen oxides and half of all particulates emitted by urban traffic.

 

In question: the use of old, polluting vehicles, that are not always completely filled. Some of the blame can also be attributed to public policies that are too timid or poorly coordinated at conurbation level. "Overall, cities have very little freight transport culture", laments the Terra Nova think tank, in a report published in June 2017, entitled "Goods in the city".

 

« 35,000 low emission vehicles already on the roads »

There can be no single solution, as Frédéric Delaval, Urban Logistics Director of the Group explains in detail. Because bulky parcels (chairs, dining room tables, mattresses) aren’t transported in the same way as books or vegetables. In the same way, we don't operate in large cities in the same way as we do in medium-sized cities. The priorities are different, along with the constraints, budgets and target consumers. Hence the need to work closely with all stakeholders, and come up with tailor-made solutions. So in Toulouse, La Poste (a member of the Lumin'Toulouse consortium alongside Semmaris, operator of the Rungis International Market, and Caisse d'Epargne Midi-Pyrénées) will need to ensure the construction and management of the Fondeyre logistics hub, but also synergy with the national interest market (MIN), which is the second largest after Rungis in tonnage. This is a response to the growing consumer trend for short supply chains.

« 5 billion parcels delivered in Europe in 2016 by Geopost, twice more than in 2010. That figure is expected to reach 12 to 14 billion by 2026 »

In Bordeaux, the challenge was to bring city-centre activities closer to the logistics operations of its partners and operators, against the backdrop of a strained property market. The solution chosen was to bring these operations together in the same building and share the space according to the time required for each operation and its standard for service (express, fast, to individuals etc.). 

 

One click and it's delivered

Another city, other conundrum... in Paris, La Poste has been working for more than a year on the creation of a network of micro-hubs. Taking inspiration from the system set up in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia by Spanish operator and La Poste subsidiary Seur, these local mini-hubs will be used as a starting point for "clean mode" delivery routes by postal workers, but as collection points for parcels, accessible by individuals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will complement the Group's Pickup network, which already has 7,800 pickup points and 350 automatic lockers installed in railway stations, shopping malls and traditional post offices.

 

In the city of the future, postal workers could be accompanied by Effibot. It's a small electric robot that can carry up to 150kg of goods, and above all is completely autonomous. Clad with sensors, it was designed to follow postal workers during their delivery rounds, stop when they stop, leave when they do, and avoid all obstacles without help. Trialled in Nantes and Paris, this smart cart could have offspring in other cities.

 

Head in the clouds

Unless the following doesn't take off... At the end of 2016, DPD launched its first commercial drone delivery line. Connecting the Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte Beaume and Pourrières municipalities in the Var region, it makes delivery possible to a business incubator that combines a dozen start-ups. The service currently requires the construction of fixed take-off and landing points (as is the case for commercial aviation lines) and is designed for areas with limited access. However, in the long term, there's nothing to stop us imagining a future where autonomous electric postal drones fly over traffic jams, avoiding each other to deposit the pair of shoes, bought online just a few hours before, into a La Poste locker.