Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

DHL, ZF and NVidia to develop self-driving fleet

Steve Rogerson
October 24, 2017



DHL is working with German automotive supplier ZF to deploy a fleet of autonomous delivery trucks in 2019, the firm’s announced at this month’s GPU Technology Conference in Munich.
 
DHL will outfit its electric light trucks with the ZF Pro AI self-driving system, based on Drive PX technology from California-based NVidia, for automating package transportation and delivery, including the last kilometre of deliveries. Taking packages from a central point to their final destination is considered the most complex and costliest aspect of courier and e-commerce deliveries.
 
DHL has a fleet of 3000 StreetScooter electric delivery vehicles, which can be equipped with ZF’s multiple sensors including cameras, lidar and radar that feed into the ZF ProAI system. This will let the vehicles use artificial intelligence to understand their environment, plan a safe path forward, proceed along a selected route and park themselves. This should let delivers be made with more accuracy and safety, and at lower cost.
 
“The development of autonomous delivery vehicles demonstrates how AI and deep learning are also reshaping the commercial transportation industry,” said Jensen Huang, founder and chief executive officer of NVidia. “As online shopping continues to explode, and the shortage of truck drivers becomes more dire, AI-enabled vehicles will be key to providing last-mile delivery services.”
 
To develop these AI delivery vehicles, DHL has already configured its data centre with the NVidia DGX-1 AI supercomputer for training its neural networks. It will then run its deep learning models on the lorry’s Drive PX platform.
 
"Research and development of ecological, economical and efficient transportation will bring dramatic changes to the logistics industry," said Jürgen Gerdes, member of the board at Deutsche Post, of which DHL is a subsidiary. "Partnering with NVidia and ZF will enable us to responsibly support this development, benefit from it and reinforce our position as the industry’s innovation leader.”
 
A prototype delivery vehicle unveiled at the conference uses six cameras, one radar and two lidar all feeding into the Drive PX. A test fleet of 300 vehicles is scheduled for next year, with the official deployment in 2019 of 3000 self-driving delivery trucks.
 
“In its StreetScooter fleet, Deutsche Post DHL is taking its next step with our current and future generation of surround sensor technology and ZF ProAI artificial intelligence brain powered by NVidia," said ZF chief executive officer Stefan Sommer. “The ZF ProAI is the brain between our autonomous driving sensor set to detect and understand the environment and vehicle motion control based on ZF’s outstanding mechanical competence; the entire system follows our see-think-act approach. In supply logistics and on the last mile where autonomous driving has tremendous benefits, goods can be delivered independent of the time of the day and delivery staff, with minimal noise and emissions, thus significantly reducing traffic congestion in city centres.”
 
ZF Friedrichshafen specialises in driveline and chassis technology as well as active and passive safety technology. The company has a global workforce of around 137,000 with approximately 230 locations in some 40 countries. In 2016, ZF achieved sales of €35.2bn. It annually invests about six per cent of its sales in research and development.
 
NVidia’s invention of the graphics processing unit (GPU) in 1999 sparked the growth of the PC gaming market and redefined modern computer graphics. More recently, GPU deep learning ignited modern AI with the GPU acting as the brain of computers, robots and self-driving cars.
 
DHL Supply Chain has launched a logistics service for the medical device sector that consolidates field inventory into single locations and uses quality management to provide better control and traceability of valuable products.
 
This service comes in response to a number of growing industry challenges, including greater demand from an ageing and more active population through to increasing cost pressure from healthcare providers. These factors have led to an ever-increasing need to manage inventory better, both in the field and in hospital. The final kilometre service focuses on the need for companies in the medical device sector to address the compromises between cost and availability and drive efficiencies in field inventory.