Ford Testing Digital ‘Warehouse on Wheels’ Concept in London, Last Mile by Bike, Drone, or Foot Delivery

Ford is partnering with Gnewt in London to test a last-mile delivery concept. // Photograph Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.

Ford Motor Co. is partnering with Gnewt by Menzies Distribution in London, England to test a digital “warehouse on wheels” concept for last-mile delivery, which has the potential to help cut traffic, reduce emissions, and improve delivery times.

Ford says it is committed to tackling urban mobility challenges, in particular the deliveries of goods and services, through innovation, technology, and partnerships. The “warehouse on wheels” concept is designed to be compatible both with Ford vans and those of other manufacturers. The vans then act as dynamic delivery hubs that collect orders from a depot and briefly stop at strategic locations determined to be the most efficient for each batch of orders.

Ford’s proprietary software platform coordinates with nearby foot couriers – or potentially with bicycle couriers, drones, and autonomous robots in the future – to fulfil the last leg of each delivery.

From groceries to fashion, the growth in online shopping across Europe means the number of parcel deliveries is expected to double in the next 10 years. Most of these deliveries are fulfilled by vans, leading to escalating congestion in many cities with average journey times in London having risen by more than 40 percent in just three years. As a result, carriers are under increasing pressure to deliver more parcels, more quickly, with less cost, while continuing to ensure employee welfare and environmental responsibility.

The digital delivery service being tested should efficiently coordinate multiple modes of transport including pedestrian and – one day – bicycle couriers.

During the trial, Gnewt’s “last‑mile” delivery service will be driven by Ford’s intelligent cloud‑based, multi‑modal routing and logistics software MoDe:Link, which manages all aspects of parcel delivery from depot to doorstep. This could help couriers, fleet managers, logistics, and food delivery companies optimize processes and increase van utilization, saving time and money while boosting capacity.

The service also could improve customer experience by offering improved delivery windows and reducing costs, speeding time from order to delivery by enabling vans to make more frequent round trips back to the depot. In addition, it could contribute to healthier streets and reduced traffic in major cities, cutting congestion around valuable curb space where vans typically load and unload.

“Our goal is to keep larger vehicles like delivery vans operating in the high‑load, less‑congested environments in which they perform best,” says Tom Thompson, project lead for Ford Mobility. “However, for the last mile of a journey into an urban area, where congestion and lack of parking can be a challenge, it makes sense to offload deliveries to more-nimble, efficient, and cost‑effective modes of transport.”

Building on the company’s success as the top‑selling commercial vehicle brand in Europe, the London trial is one of several initiatives in which Ford is looking to address delivery and urban mobility challenges in the city of tomorrow.

In the U.K., Ford is working with Transport for London on a multi‑million‑pound project to trial 20 plug‑in hybrid Transit vans that run solely on electric power for most city trips. The trial is being extended to the City of Valencia, Spain and Cologne, Germany this year. In the U.S., Ford continues to innovate in urban goods and service deliveries as it prepares for a future with self‑driving vehicles. Ford has teamed up with Postmates, an on‑demand delivery platform in Miami and Miami Beach to operate a self-driving delivery service.