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DHL Says Its SmartTrucks Save Money, Time and CO2

Field tests of the company's RFID-enabled delivery vans showed that the initiative reduces fuel consumption and improves customer service, but read rates need some improvement.
By Brett Neely
Sep 30, 2009DHL, the global package delivery service division of logistics giant Deutsche Post DHL, reports that its SmartTruck initiative, which integrates RFID into its delivery trucks to enable faster package handling, has accomplished many of its goals. Nonetheless, the company indicates, the project is not ready to proceed to the deployment phase, because the technology has not yet achieved a 100 percent read rate of tags by the truck-mounted RFID interrogators.

"We are satisfied that the SmartTruck has passed the technology field trial," said Keith Ulrich, DHL's leader of technology and innovation management, at a press conference held in Berlin on Sept. 22 to announce the project's initial results. "The hoped-for savings in fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions have occurred. Moreover, the punctuality of the pick-up and delivery of shipments increased significantly."

The SmartTruck's RFID system continually takes inventory of the packages inside, so that real-time reports on delivery status are available to customers.

In addition, Ulrich says, thanks to the use of radio frequency identification, customers could not only track the exact route of a package they were expecting, but also receive notification, via SMS text message, regarding the anticipated delivery time.

Ulrich cautioned, however, that before DHL can more widely deploy the technology, it first needs to refine the system's ability to read passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID labels affixed to packages on two specially modified Mercedes-Benz Sprinter delivery vans.

"We have found that in some cases, the RFID technology has not achieved the desired 100 percent read rate," Ulrich explained. "Therefore, we're working on an additional project to improve the RFID technology."

DHL's SmartTruck initiative employs not only RFID, but also a navigation system that uses real-time traffic data to improve route planning, reduce total miles driven and increase the efficiency of package pickups and deliveries. The technology was developed at the DHL Innovation Center, with contributions from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), Infoware, Motorola and Quintiq.

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