The future of home delivery is unequivocally linked to autonomous technologies. In this area, Lithuania is not chasing others, but is also taking the lead, which brings useful insights to the entire market. In Vilnius, for the first time in Europe, a fleet of autonomous cars already participated in the busy city center traffic. According to Tad Norušaitis, the manager and co-founder of the startup "LastMile" that implemented the project, the decision to entrust the purchases to robots paid off - it showed what already works and what can be improved.

in 2022 the first "LastMile" autonomous car went to the Balsių district of Vilnius. Less than a year later, three robots appeared in the center of the capital and became the first trio of robot-couriers that participated in the traffic on the central streets of the city as full-fledged vehicles.

"The pilot project, centered on Vilnius, became not only a significant stage of delivery services in Europe, but also provided useful lessons in efficiency, sustainability, and technological integration. And the most important thing is that it was confirmed by the favorable environment for trade innovations that has formed in Lithuania. State institutions look favorably on them, and business partners and buyers are hungry for innovations that can later be applied to other markets as well," says T. Norušaitis.

The statistics are telling: in 136 days, autonomous cars drove more than 5 thousand. km or a distance equivalent to a trip from Vilnius around the Baltic Sea. The robots did not get into a single traffic incident, delivered purchases over 500 times, and the daily record was 18 deliveries.

A comprehensive solution to 3 modern problems

Greater efficiency, driver shortages and the need for green delivery solutions are among the most important factors driving the search for advanced logistics solutions.

"Retail in general is full of complex challenges, and it's not often that one solution can solve even several of them at once. Self-driving cars have helped us streamline and reduce delivery costs, and confirmed that we will be able to ease labor shortages in the future. In addition, we have proven that home delivery can be both convenient and sustainable. Electric motors mean not only zero emissions, but also lower noise pollution, which is no less a sensitive problem in cities," says T. Norušaitis.

Progress has been made in legal regulation

According to the manager of LastMile, the first steps of autonomous delivery robots required not only technological know-how, but also an update of the Lithuanian legal regulatory system.

"All countries face this - the rules need to be adapted so that they also fit the practical subtleties of introducing autonomous vehicles on public roads. After all, such cars simply did not exist before - there were questions about their registration and insurance. We are glad that the Ministry of Transport took into account the new needs and, through cooperation, we promptly prepared the legal basis for future projects", says T. Norušaitis.

The most important task for achieving changes in legal regulation is to ensure the safety of new vehicles. Even on busy streets and often stray and built-up yards, autonomous cars have not been involved in a single safety incident.

"It really worked out that we didn't jump headlong into the experiment. First of all, we tested the robots in the remote, less mobile Balsiai district. Once we were convinced of their practicality and ability to move efficiently in rural areas, only then could we calmly begin the planning of a new stage and step into the streets of the capital's center", notes T. Norušaitis.

jav-market">The successful integration led to entering the US market as well

Three parties worked closely on the practical implementation of the autonomous car project: the robot developers Clevon, the shopping network Iki, whose purchases were delivered to customers, and LastMile, which created a platform for the implementation of the project.

"We adapted our planning software to the control system of specific vehicles. This integration made it easier to update orders and delivery logistics in real time, which made it possible to plan routes efficiently," says T. Norušaitis.

Dynamic exchange of information about robot availability, order sizes, customer locations, PIN codes, etc. became the most important here. The head of the start-up admits that there were first system disturbances, but this allowed him to discover more effective solutions and to be convinced of the potential of integrated e-commerce.

"Practically, we have proven that from a technical point of view there are no obstacles to operating from different countries, we can adapt our software to different needs. This proved true in Lithuania and became an incentive to expand activities. We have already entered the US market, where we offer our platform as a personalized IT solution for home delivery of food from restaurants. We are also taking on new projects in Germany and Romania, we have specific plans in Austria", says T. Norušaitis.

Demonstrated potential for future prospects

The beginning of a new era in city logistics did not go unnoticed. "LastMile" was recognized as the innovation of the year at the "Green Transportation Awards", and Vilnius also received international attention as making solid progress in the field of autonomous robots. However, according to T. Norušaitis, the most valuable were the opportunities to discover areas for improvement in such a presentation and feedback from customers.

"Our test showed that both the infrastructure and Lithuanian buyers are ready for autonomous innovations. Only here is customer trust very important. Buyers got to know the innovation gradually, they needed to get used to the fact that the parcel should be picked up from the robot, and not directly from the hands of the courier. Therefore, we will continue to combine our software with various delivery methods," says the head of the startup.

LastMile's phone survey showed that over 95 percent respondents find the courier robot convenient to use. They praised the clarity and ease of use of the service, appreciated the new approach to delivery, and were unanimously satisfied with the freshness and condition of the delivered goods.

"Looking to the future, the success of the autonomous car experiment in Vilnius paves the way for more active use of these technologies and the integration of different equipment. By using the potential of autonomous technologies, we can promote efficiency, sustainability and innovation in logistics, thus creating smarter and greener cities", T. Norušaitis is convinced.

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