Saturday saw the arrival of a self-driving delivery truck in the busy shopping streets of the centre of Mechelen. The event was a test run of a small delivery vehicle, the brainchild of the French company EasyMile, who specialise in autonomous vehicle technology. The aim is to supply city-centre retailers and restaurants with deliveries using a small, electric vehicle in the place of heavier, polluting diesel or petrol vehicles.
The test project was run by the Flemish centre of logistics technology and innovation VIL. The city of Hasselt has already experimented successfully with “Last Mile” logistics, where deliveries are made as normal by trucks to some location on the outskirts of town, and then carried by various more ecological means to locations in the centre – providing better mobility, less congestion and reduced pollution. A similar project is being considered by the Port Authority of Brussels.
The ease of delivery to bricks-and-mortar shops is also, the retail industry hopes, a means of combatting the increasing trend for customers to visit shops to inspect the goods, and then go home to buy online. If a shop has a full and dependable stock in all sizes and colours, customers might be more inclined to buy on the spot.
“With a self-driving, electric vehicle, that can follow a constant itinerary and move through the city safely, you could solve those two problems at once,” said VIL project leader Kris Neyens in De Morgen.
EasyMile has also provided a similar vehicle for passenger transport, while a delivery system has been introduced in Gelderland in the Netherlands.
“I thought it was an ice-cream van,” one shopper in Mechelen told the paper. In fact, since the electric vehicle makes little noise of its own, EasyMile have installed a noise similar to an ice-cream van to warn pedestrians of its approach.
The Mechelen experiment will be evaluated by VIL and a report delivered to the city council.