Get in touch

Contact us!

    PostNord & Hugo Robots: Innovating Last Mile Logistics

    The story of PostNord and Hugo is a story about partnership and how technology can be used to solve challenges around last-mile delivery. PostNord, of course, is the biggest logistics company in the Nordics, while Hugo is a savvy start-up working with autonomous robot deliveries. Together, these two companies see big opportunities to improve logistics while also addressing sustainability goals.

    For PostNord, innovation is crucial if they are to continue to be relevant to their customers in an increasingly fast-moving market. Therefore, developing these types of partnerships is important for PostNord. Home deliveries have increased greatly during the pandemic and customers have enjoyed the convenience of getting their orders delivered to their door. Additionally, cities around Sweden have started to commit to the United Nation’s Global Goal 11Sustainable Cities and Communities. This commitment includes local goals to reduce emissions of fossil fuels, reduce the environmental impact of cities, and provide access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces. The convenience of home deliveries is here to stay, but in the future these deliveries need to be provided in a sustainable way.

    “For PostNord, addressing how logistics impacts all parts of society is important,” says Pernilla Kolni, Business Innovation Officer, PostNord. “As a company we have played an important role in society delivering mail and parcels for over 400 years. We have successfully adapted to major shifts in society and will continue to do so when it comes to creating a more sustainable environment.

    To lead transformation to more sustainable logistics we need to think differently and take advantage of new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles. With Hugo, we see an opportunity to provide safe, smart, and sustainable deliveries without compromising on customer demands on convenience.

    Pernilla Kolni Business Innovation Officer PostNord

    Different markets provide different end point solutions. In Sweden, there is a long tradition with service points. To meet the needs of customers PostNord is now also offering parcel lockers for pick-up and soon also for drop-off.  When looking at a solution with an autonomous delivery robot it is important to look at the whole infrastructure, including our mail services offer where we handle internal postal services for our customers to make their everyday life easier.

    “This is why we are running two pilots in parallel – one at Chalmers University in Gothenburg focusing on synergies in autonomous transportation in a campus environment, and one in Norra Djurgårdsstaden in Stockholm focusing on all kinds of home deliveries in a city environment,” says Pernilla Kolni. “The two different pilots give us good insights into the different opportunities and challenges that comes with using autonomous vehicles in different environments.”

    Chalmers University has an internal postal service where mail and parcels are delivered to all locations within the campus site by internal staff.

    “The pilot at Chalmers is very interesting as we are able to see how this kind of autonomous delivery robot can assist staff with the internal postal service delivery on campus,” says Pernilla Kolni. “When we are looking at solutions with an autonomous delivery robot, we look at it as having an assisting role or entering new logistic areas where we are not currently present. While the general view is that robots will completely replace humans – and in some cases it will –  it can also be seen as a assisting tool to make everyday life easier for our employees delivering mail and parcels.”

    From Hugo’s perspective, having a background where they have worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, including Volvo, Polestar, and Koenigsegg, as well as future strategies, puts them in prime position to understand how the logistics industry can become sustainable, as well as where we are at when it comes to autonomous vehicles.

    “If you look at autonomous vehicles and the challenges around distributing things to people, you can look at it as an equation,” explains Carl Berge, Founder & CEO, Hugo. “When the base parameters are roughly the same as they’ve been in the car industry for a hundred years – you have wheels, a combustion engine, etc. – that equation doesn’t change very much. But if you start adding autonomous functionality and electric, what would be the most optimal vehicle to distribute goods or services? We see that it will still be cars and trucks, but we can also see this new category of smaller vehicles and we believe this smaller category will be the first to be deployed in society. Why? Well, if we come back to the equation, if a car or truck makes a mistake, people can be hurt, where as a robot will not harm anyone. So, really, ask yourself: do you want to deploy cars, trucks, or cute little robots first? Sometimes these discussions become very theoretical, but we believe we have the opportunity to safely deploy robots in a good way that will improve communities and society – but to do that we need to start moving today, taking action today for both people and the environment.”

    Challenges

    For PostNord, there is no challenge that can’t be solved. The main purpose in testing Hugo has been to learn more about autonomous vehicles and about the interaction between humans and robots, as well as about the customer experience in using them. One of the biggest challenges is addressing people’s skepticism towards autonomous vehicles.

    It is important to be aware of the skepticism toward new technological when carrying out tests in a public environment and really make sure that the tests are perceived as safe

    Pernilla Kolni

    “Carrying out tests is so important to contribute to a more nuanced view towards autonomous vehicles. During our first test in Norra Djurgårdsstaden Hugo drove back and forth on the main walkway. People passed as if Hugo had always driven there. Even dogs took no notice. Of course, there was some attention as it is not every day that an autonomous vehicle is driving on the walkway, but I am pretty sure that the natural moving pattern shown around Hugo was a result of him driving slowly and always stopping as soon as someone got too close. Together with the way he is designed, small and friendly looking, it made people feel safe.”

    From Hugo’s point of view, Carl Berge says that while it’s very easy to make something as a prototype, it’s very hard to make something a stable service – and that they’re at that stage now, where they are making this work and something they can deploy.

    Connectivity is also extremely important. You need good, reliable connectivity for autonomous vehicles to drive seamlessly.

    “We’ve noticed that we have dark zones, where the robot stops, so reliability is so important,” says Carl Berge. “This has to do in part with 5G still in the process of being rolled out, but also in one of our testing areas everything is built to be sustainable. This is great, but it also means that the way the buildings are built creates dark zones because the wireless is blocked. This doesn’t mean we can’t solve that – we just need to add different bay stations or points.

    “The dark zones are one thing, while another thing is the GPS signal – it is OK but when we get close to a building it can get ten times worse. Also, it’s very technical stuff that can be challenging: we have really good computers on the robot, but then we need to match them with the sensors and do a lot of programming to make them behave the way we want them to, and that of course all takes a lot of time.”

    Public perception is another area where there could be challenges, but Pernilla Kolni says it’s been very good, both from people and businesses in the area, and from media and the public

    “As a governmental publicly owned company you are always in the spotlight. Having this in mind, testing new technical solutions in public is a bit of a risk. But you need to find the balance if you want to invest in new technical solutions to solve challenges for the greater good. It’s also important to remember that Hugo is an electric vehicle (EV) and will need to be charged regularly, so being part of the discussions around building up a national network of charging stations and the ecosystem around it will be valuable.”

    Connectivity & data

    Without connectivity and IoT Hugo isn’t going anywhere.  IoT is also an important part of a lot of industries, not just logistics, when it comes to collecting data from different sources and combining it to get a clearer picture of things. So, if Hugo is driving back and forth, day in and day out, a lot of data could be collected and be shared for the common good.

    The smarter a city gets, the more connected it gets, the more we stand to gain from the data collected,” says Pernilla Kolni. “New logistics networks with autonomous vehicles could open up new business models for data sharing that could benefit cities in their efforts to create more sustainable spaces. This is where IoT could be really important for us and for society, but in order for it to become a reality, we need to work together with other main stakeholders such as decision-makers at various authorities and city offices.”

    In the case of Hugo and PostNord, data can be beneficial for city planning, studying traffic patterns, air quality and noise levels – there are a lot of things that can be addressed in a better way if you create that ecosystem and start combining that data.

    “We try to be a fast development company, so the faster the connection we have, the faster we can develop. In our world, each robot is more like a node and our developers can go into our platform and see what is happening, get error messages, login and debug and basically solve problems without going near the robot, all with IoT connectivity. And since this is a new system we’re building, we need that very good connectivity to ensure we’re building a great system.”

    “When it comes to our fleet of robots, our developers can monitor things with IoT,” says Carl Berge. “We need connectivity so that we can continuously release new things and updates. We also empower our robots with good hardware so we have room to explore new things, and IoT will be an important part of making that happen.

    The future

    To ensure they are delivering the future logistics needed, PostNord is doing a lot of tests, both big and small. This year they are running four tests with Hugo in Norra Djurgårdsstaden, with different businesses and people involved.

    “We build our test pipeline on learnings from previous tests,” says Pernilla Kolni. “It takes time to reach a deeper understanding of a new technical solution so we’re taking things step-by-step. Our aim is to make everyday life easier and we want to achieve this in a sustainable way. Hugo is one of the things we’re testing to achieve that goal. When we feel that we have learned enough and have validated our hypotheses, we need to take a closer look at everything from possible business models to risk analysis and rollout plans. We also need to learn from cities in other countries that have come further and have already implemented similar systems. Only when we have done all this can we have a clear picture of the way forward.”

    Hugo, on the other hand, has the benefit of being approached by any number of different kinds of organizations and use cases that can be deployed today, such as in industrial areas and warehouses.

    “Hugo is being used by some Swedish car companies in their development,” says Carl Berge. “So, we are deploying with different customers and collecting as many use cases as possible.  We’ve built a robot that works both indoors and outdoors, but our focus is on outdoor delivery and the end game is to get these out into the cities and enhance sustainability goals.”