The same-day courier and messenger industry in the UK is being revolutionised by eCouriers groundbreaking application of artificial intelligence harnessed to GPS systems to create a totally automated fleet management system.

The breakthrough comes from using a platform of neural networks and learning algorithms that draw information from GPS satellite-tracking systems as well as live weather and traffic feeds to allocate appropriate vehicles to bookings, ensuring rapid and reliable pick-up and delivery.

Conventional courier firms spend 30 per cent of their topline revenue on employing controllers to manage their fleets.

By automating the operation, overall costs can be slashed and charges to customers cut by 10-15 per cent. Large British firms typically commission 10-50 courier bookings a day, so automation of the labour-intensive business of managing a courier fleet means a typical multi-national company could save in the region of 100,000 a year by using the eCourier logistics model.

In the traditional model, human controllers communicate with courier fleets of bicycles, motorcycles, and vans via a radio network. Controllers take the incoming customer requests and allocate them to drivers that they imagine to be most appropriate.

This process is highly informationally complex and unscaleable, which means that even the largest courier firms have difficulty supporting a fleet of 400 couriers efficiently, with one controller able to effectively manage an average of only 30 couriers at any time. Diminishing returns mean that whilst only one additional controller is required to increase fleet size from 30 to 60 couriers, several are required to grow from 400 to 430 couriers. This creates an artificial upper limit on the fleet size of any one company.

By comparison, the eCourier system in which the auto-allocation system does all the hard work and the human controller works in an oversight capacity (responding to exceptions like break-downs) allows a single human controller to manage upwards of 150 couriers, a five-fold increase in efficiency.

And using eCouriers website, which went live at the start of January 2005, customers are guaranteed peace of mind by being able to track their bookings from pick-up to destination on a real-time display.

eCourier Director of Technology Jay Bregman said: Unlike traditional tracking like that offered by Federal Express and DHL eCouriers tracking uses award-winning Java-based mapping technology, enabling the customer to watch their courier as they cross the streets of the UK, offering clients a level of granularity and precision unique to eCourier.

The eCourier package is based on collaborative research and development with some of the top logistics minds in the world, at institutions such as the Universities of Calabria and Lecce in southern Italy, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and eCouriers in-house development team.

The resulting algorithms and artificial intelligence software have been submitted for patent and copyright registration in the US and the EU.

eCourier believes the technology is likely to find further applications in other on-demand environments such as emergency dispatch.

Along with the University of Calabria and a French mapping provider, eCourier has recently applied for a E1.2m grant from the EU for just such applications.

eCourier also brings a range of big benefits to customers:

- Reliability. At all times, clients know exactly what has happened to their booking. eCouriers on-line street tracking system enables them to log online and view their couriers as they collect a package and negotiate their way across London to their destination. Each courier carries a GPS mini-computer which feeds back to the control room and the client constantly updated location, speed and direction.
- Proof of delivery. Once a delivery has been completed, eCourier emails, text messages or faxes the client with confirmation of the details, including the signature of the person accepting the package. This approach cuts down overheads and produces more savings for customers. At conventional courier firms, 20 per cent of the incoming calls are queries about existing jobs. In five months of operation, eCourier has not received a single call of that kind.
- Speed. Use of satellite technology, which takes into account weather conditions and traffic flow, means that jobs are given to the courier best placed to make the fastest possible pick-up and delivery.
- Pricing transparency. eCouriers exact mileage policy gives clients the lowest price for every job they book. Once an order is placed, routing and pricing computers calculate the quickest route and bill the client only for the precise door-to-door distance.
- Professional riders. By minimising overheads, eCouriers is able to pay its riders more, ensuring that it attracts and retains Londons most experienced and professional couriers.
- Record-keeping. eCourier stores all courier bookings on an easily accessible computerised database. This makes it easy for clients to audit their courier usage, find individual past bookings, view bookings by date ranges and break down usage by account, company department or cost centre.

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