Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DHL tests robot to help with mail deliveries

Steve Rogerson
October 10, 2017

DHL is testing a robot to carry mail for Deutsche Post staff in the German town of Bad Hersfeld.
The robot accompanies mail deliverers on their routes and carries their mail items.
Residents of two delivery districts in Bad Hersfeld can immediately expect to start seeing the self-propelled electric Postbot accompanying the mail carrier. The robot can carry up to six post trays, relieving carriers of their heavy loads. It also frees up the deliverers' hands, making it easier for them to distribute the mail.
The city of Bad Hersfeld expects to benefit from the Postbot test as well, as the robot will also be provided to a city employee who distributes the mail between the city's administrative offices. Mayor Thomas Fehling (pictured back right) was pleased that Deutsche Post selected Bad Hersfeld for the German premiere.
"We're a city of manageable dimensions and a dedicated team of city administrators, the kind that can offer a short path from planning to approval," said Fehling. "The test fits perfectly into our programme of smart city measures; we hope in very concrete terms that the test phase will provide simplified mail distribution between our administrative offices."
Deutsche Post will be watching the pilot project carefully to see how well the robot supports staff with their physically demanding work.
"Day in and day out, our delivery staff perform outstanding but exhausting work," said Jürgen Gerdes (pictured back left), CEO of the post, e-commerce and parcel division at Deutsche Post DHL Group. “We're constantly working on new solutions to allow our employees to handle this physically challenging work even as they continue to age. We are already using a variety of tools in this regard, including e-bikes and e-trikes for postal deliveries, and are now also looking at innovative robot applications. This current test is expected to deliver important insights into how we can further develop the delivery process for our employees."
The Postbot was custom built, based on a robot from the French company Effidence, with input from the delivery staff of Deutsche Post to ensure that it met specific needs for transporting letters and packages. The robot can carry loads of up to 150kg. Its sensors track the legs of the mail carrier, following behind them automatically throughout the entire route. It can navigate around obstacles or stop when needed. And it can be used in all weather conditions.
The control elements have been placed on both sides of the unit to promote good ergonomics for the back and joints.
The test will initially run for roughly six weeks, followed by a period of assessment. Those insights will then flow into another round of tests and improvements.
The picture also shows Cindy Rexroth, a mail deliverer at Deutsche Post.