About Jun’s research
Automation technology in the logistics field has not yet been fully exploited. Jun’s project is to explore the possible benefits of Autonomous Mobile Lockers (AML) in city logistics networks to transfer parcels between the couriers and the depot.
AMLs are similar to delivery robots. They are the same size as a fixed lockers and can move automatically. AMLs can visit the couriers in the field and transfer parcels between the couriers and the depot. Couriers can continue their tours to customers without having to make repeated returns to the depot. This can increase efficiency.
To avoid traffic congestion, bicycle or pedestrian couriers are usually used in the city centre, which limits the coverage of each depot. At the same time, it can be seen that depots are very difficult to find in urban area and the rents are high. Because AML can move on bike lanes, AML can help us expand the coverage of depots to save cost without increasing traffic congestion.
“According to our model and algorithm, published in Transportation Research Part C, we found AML-courier combination can save between 30% and 40% of the object cost, which includes travel cost, rent cost, and fixed costs compared with the courier-only model.”
A poster for Jun Li’s PhD project, made for display at the 2022 ITS Australia awards.
Reflections on her PhD
Jun Li has learnt a huge amount already in the course of this PhD. “I’ve learnt how to build a mixed-integer programming model and heuristic algorithm to solve the vehicle routing problem. I didn’t know how to model and program at the outset of my PhD, but with the help of my supervisors and classmates it’s a skill I’ve acquired. I’ve also improved my communications skills, particularly writing academic papers and crafting presentations of my work.”
If she could travel back in time to give herself some advice when starting her PhD, she would say make good use of time, to read more papers, and to learn modelling and programming.
“In the future I plan to use the skills and experiences from my PhD to become a university lecturer and continue my research on Autonomous Mobile Lockers. I think this work will change the way logistics networks operate in the future. making them quicker, more efficient, and cheaper.”
A word from PhD supervisor, Professor Michael Bell
Why is this PhD important to investigate?
The problem that Jun Li researched arose from her experience working for SF Express, China’s largest parcel logistics company, in Shenzhen. There are many depots in the city centre out of which couriers on foot or cargo bike operate. As there is a limit to what one courier can carry, they have to return frequently to the depot. This also limits the catchment area of each depot. Real estate is expensive in the central Shenzhen so depot rental is a major expense.
The concept therefore was to deploy mobile sub-depots in the form of autonomous mobile lockers to increase the catchment area of each depot and allow the courier to continue working without the need to return to the depot frequently. We developed a series of models to explore this concept. In order to avoid city centre road congestion, we considered autonomous mobile lockers that could use walkways, cycle lanes and access pedestrian precincts.
What are the major challenges to overcome in the field?
In order to explore what autonomous mobile lockers could achieve, we needed to optimise the models we developed. Even for small problem sizes we exhausted the capabilities of the available solvers, so we had to develop special heuristics which could deliver good solutions in a reasonable amount of time. Another challenge with this research was devising parameters we could use for autonomous mobile lockers as these are currently under development.
Where might this work lead in the (near and far) future?
I believe this project comprehensively proved the concept, so the next logical step would be to arrange a field trial. The vision would be couriers and autonomous mobile lockers working efficiently, harmoniously, quietly and cleanly together, reducing the need for depots and also avoiding the congestion, noise and pollution arising from conventional delivery vans circulating looking for somewhere to park.
Contact Jun Li
If you’d like to ask Jun Li about her work, please get in touch via her LinkedIn page.
Deploying Autonomous Mobile Lockers in a two-echelon parcel operation, Transportation Research Part C, May 3, 2021