People Stories

How AI shapes the Last Mile

May 15, 2019

When Fabienne and her colleague Nick came over to the Silicon Valley almost 3 years ago, they had one empty garage with two desks and chairs, one van, and a big challenge to solve: What product can we build to increase efficiency on the last mile of cargo delivery?
How can we disrupt the way we transport goods in the future?

In fact, drivers of delivery companies are facing two massive challenges, on one hand, a lack of efficiency (e.g. the manual scanning of packages, sorting, etc.) and the other, a lack of transparency (e.g. searching for the right packages). Back to our protagonist whose goal was, and still is, in the newly founded garage to tackle these challenges and to make couriers’ lives easier.

When you visit Fabienne in Future Transportation’s garage in Menlo Park, CA, you’ll be welcomed with a bright smile in a very non-traditional environment. Everyone there loves what they’re doing. You can feel the pride in their voices when they explain what challenges they are currently facing.

The “gallon of failure” – a gold-sprayed milk gallon hanging from the wall, which apparently broke their first prototype – reminds the entire team every day of the fact that every failure will move you forward, but only if you learn to let go and continue the hunt for the right product.

“If we hadn’t gone through two complete product failures, we would have never been able to develop CoROS, our AI-powered cargo sensor system”, Fabienne said when she talks about the garage’s most important and most successful product CoROS. “Since the majority of people in our garage had spent countless hours on past prototypes, you need to present them as their trophies. This is why our meeting space in the garage is surrounded by our past product prototypes; we call it the ‘museum of failure’, and it constantly reminds us of our journey and how it brought us more together as a team and closer to being successful on the market.”

CoROS stands for Cargo Recognition and Organization System, which has the potential to revolutionize the logistics industry in the near future.

Once a courier enters the van’s cargo area, the system automatically scans each parcel, communicating to the driver two things via LEDs: first, the confirmation light around the partition door wall indicates whether the package is meant to be loaded for that particular van; second, LEDs on the shelves indicate the optimal position for the parcel. The object-tracking feature ensures to track packages at all time, even if a parcel moves during a sharp turn. Once the driver arrives at the customer stop, LEDs will illustrate where to find the package. Fabienne recalls, “Everyone in the garage contributed tremendously in teaching the camera how to read barcodes to offer more efficient solution than a barcode scanner.”

The great thing about the project? CoROS’ field of application does not necessarily end with logistics. Fabienne and her team have a clear vision for this, “With this technology you can not only bring transparency in the van, but you can start thinking of any other part of the supply chain, in which you can integrate CoROS, ranging from an airplane all the way to a shipping container to a truck. However, think bigger and you find yourself outside the logistics industry, everything that requires visual confirmation is a fantastic use case for CoROS.”