The village shop as a hub for autonomous logistics

Autonomous vehicles pick up the garbage, deliver packages to your home, and transport fresh milk to the dairy - this is what the rural logistics of tomorrow could look like. Because while there is a housing shortage in the cities, whole swathes of land are now becoming virtually unpopulated. Digital solutions are called for, in order to bring goods and services to customers in sparsely populated areas at acceptable costs. As a scientific partner in the newly founded network "Autonomous Logistics in Rural Areas," KLU is involved in the development of these innovative logistics systems.

"There are already promising technologies and business models for the so-called last mile in the city, as the events Smart Urban Retail Day (SURday) and Smart Urban Retail Night (SURnight) within the KLU research project SURTRADE (Smart Urban Retail Services) have shown. My concern, however, is with rural areas and their low flow of goods. Local shops are closing down, parcel services are making deliveries with half-empty trucks - it hardly pays off to supply largely unpopulated regions", says Prof. André Ludwig, Associate Professor of Computer Science in Logistics, responsible for the network at KLU.

    Parcel delivery at the local shop 4.0

    In response, the research network has identified first use cases: local shops could be revived in a 4.0 version. "The local shop would still fulfill its function as a social center, but would also become a hub for autonomous logistics," Prof. Ludwig explains. Parcel services would no longer deliver the goods to the end customer, but to the shop. Employees could then hand them out directly or send them to the addressee using an autonomous delivery system. Autonomous drones are also conceivable, says Ludwig. "The use of drones is much easier to implement in rural areas than in the city, where, for good reason, it is largely prohibited."

      Autonomous flows of goods, materials and energy

      A second idea would be to develop autonomous and flexible freight trains. Self-propelled containers would become part of everyday life on the road - electrically powered, autonomously steered and capable of automatically joining together to form trains. They could be used for local flows of goods, materials and energy in a variety of ways. Instead of large garbage trucks with long routes, a swarm of autonomous vehicles could do the work. A sample application in agriculture: autonomous vehicles could transport fresh milk directly to the dairy. Application scenarios have also been developed for gas and power grids, and the network is also open to other ideas and approaches, as long as they serve one goal: to make rural regions economically strong and worth living in, with the help of autonomous logistics.

      Network "Autonomous Logistics in Rural Areas"
      The network comprises twenty partners and is supported by the "Central Innovation Program for Medium-Sized Enterprises." Medium-sized companies and research institutions receive grants for ambitious research and development projects that lead to new products and technical services or better production processes.

      More information: