Voice assistant helps getting parcels to the right recipient

Monday, March 8, 2021 - 09:25
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To optimise the delivery of parcels and to help delivery staff with their work – that is what Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and logistics firm Hermes have undertaken to do and they are working together on this with development specialists like the start-up Neohelden from Karlsruhe, Germany.  After a record year for the courier and parcel delivery sector in Germany with an estimated volume of over four billion parcels nationwide (source: ‘Parcel Shipping Index 2021’, Pitney Bowes) the sector is looking at innovations like their app ‘Neo’, which is currently being trialled in a pilot scheme in East London. This assistant can be operated by voice control and touchscreen and provides relevant information on the next delivery both in spoken format and visually.

Voice assistantAs part of its project with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles and Hermes, Neohelden has adapted its voice assistant – Neo – to meet the challenges in the parcel delivery business and support drivers during their everyday shifts. Whether it be for onboarding, the first few delivery runs or an overview of the parcels handed on, the ‘Conversational interface’ will in the future even work in dozens of languages. The assistant has the advantage of being able to link the existing IT systems, such as databases, CRM systems and infotainment screens, together in a simple way.

The benefit for the drivers: they see and hear during their round what’s coming up, have all orders to hand displayed as a list and can select the next delivery by touch or voice command. If they wish, they can have the system read out the most relevant details about the next delivery, such as recipient name, address, type of delivery, any particular place where the parcel should be left and any preferred neighbour to leave it with. Thanks to voice control the delivery staff member is also able to ask for further details about each item on the job list. The aim is to save a significant amount of time in the area of the delivery address and to ease the challenging workload, especially at times of high parcel volume, rush-hour traffic or at unknown locations.

This digital assistance could help in handling the sector’s growth. Lynsey Aston, Head of Product, Innovation and Onboarding at Hermes UK, said: “Our network of over 27,000 couriers are working hard to deliver ever- increasing volumes driven by the natural growth of e-commerce. On top of that, the pandemic has seen our volumes soar to more than 630 million parcels over the last year and we’ve grown our teams and network of self- employed couriers, which has meant a lot of new starters to onboard, fast. Anything that helps us to do this quicker and supports our couriers in delivering more safely and efficiently is really important, so we’re excited to be part of this trial in partnership with our Innovation Lab team.”

According to Parcel Shipping Index 2021, this trend is set to continue for Germany as well: The study projects an annual growth rate of at least six per cent for the period through to 2026. During the 2020 Christmas period alone (October to December), Hermes in Germany delivered a record 126 million consignments – an increase of around 25 per cent on the same period the year before.

As one of 180 entrants from all over Europe in the Future Logistics Challenge run by Hermes and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to find the most promising solutions in the areas of ‘Delivery Driver Experience’ and ‘Smart Delivery Vehicles’, Neohelden came out top alongside a project from start-up Viscopic. “The challenge lies in developing helpful apps like this for the existing everyday delivery routine and for existing electronics infrastructure in the vehicle and on hand-held devices,” explains Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles project leader Artur Hasselbach. Marco Schlüter, Chief Operations Officer at Hermes Germany GmbH and member of the Future Logistics Challenge jury, adds: “Especially when working in densely built-up areas of big cities, voice assistance can be a real benefit. We are thrilled to see the results of this pilot project.”

Throughout March the system will be tested by multiple drivers on real delivery rounds at a trial location in the Greater London area.

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