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I’m not saying you should bundle old people into car boots, but…


What’s better than solving a problem with a creative solution? Solving two problems with the same creative solution, of course. On the topic of whether or not car boots can play a part in easing the last mile burden, some interesting ideas have sprung from a conversation I had with Hug0 Pickford-Wardle, chief innovation officer at Matter (a design and innovation consultancy that’s worked with some impressive names like The Times, for whom it created its iPad app).
Can we find a way to make a difference to our communities and at the same time create a new parcel delivery option? Hugo Pickford-Wardle thinks we can.

Hugo Pickford-Wardle

Hugo Pickford-Wardle, Matter

We’ve all experienced the pain of being out when the parcel is delivered. The ensuing ping pong that is organising re-delivery, or worse venturing into the industrial wilderness to pick up your parcel from the depot.

For the parcel delivery companies it’s also a problem. Specifically “successful first time delivery.” It’s not only a poor experience for the customer, but it’s costly for the delivery company.

Automotive companies (Yes, car manufacturers) have picked up on this problem their customers face and are trying to solve it. This, collaboration between logistics and automotive organisations working across industry on an actual and real problem is to be applauded.

Looking at the solution Audi is developing with Amazon and DHL, they have identified a trend that is being capitalised literally, by AirBnB, JustPark, Puyouryurtinmygarden and a plethora of venture capital backed offering that aim to make sure of your under-utilised assets, often space in one form or another.

In this case, the car companies recognise the car boot as a good storage spot for your bulky parcels.

Technology can now enable on demand and fully audited access to your boot. Now, even if I’m not available as long as my car boot is, it’s not a problem.

Of course, the neigh-sayers can highlight the hurdles; security, location and overloading come high on the list. Together with the cost of providing drivers real time location on a moving target in which to place their parcel delivery.

I certainly believe that all of those objections can and will be overcome.

However, I still think that the parcel companies in particular are missing a trick, and to explain why I’d like you to think about the annoying box you have to fill in on websites to prove you’re real – CAPTCHA.

Luis von Ahn is the creator of CAPTCHA and he realised that rather than annoying the whole world with that form, he could put it to good use and solve world peace. Well not quite, but he did realise that he could put it to some use.

When he created the second version of CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA, he added a 2nd box for you to fill in. That second box was used to help digitise the worlds knowledge, and the words he put in the box where the really really hard ones. ReCAPTCHA is now transcribing 40 million words a day.

Luis Von Ahn has gone on to create a platform called Duolingo, and in his excellent Ted talk, he explains that Duolingo does two jobs. It helps people to learn a language, and it’s translating the whole internet. He’s created an innovation that solves two problems.

Now let’s return to the car boot and the problem that it’s solving. By using your under-utilised car boot to store your packages you are definitely helping solve the “successful first time delivery” problem for customers and for parcel companies. But what if you could also solve the problem of Old Person Loneliness?

If you’ve ever sat on a Tube in London, I imagine you will have read an advert asking you for a mere £3 to send someone round to Fred’s house for a cup of tea and a chat.

The reason Age Concern, and other charities for the elderly, need to run those campaigns is because old person loneliness is a real and serious issue that needs to be addressed and they don’t have a better solution than spending your money sending someone round to speak to Fred. But Fred’s next door to that car boot…

At the risk of sounding crass, old people, particularly home bound old people are distribution centres waiting to happen.

Wouldn’t it be better for my wife to go round to Fred’s house with our toddlers, have a cup of tea and pick up her parcel rather than pop open her boot and lose that community interaction? I know Fred for one will be worse off. But not just for the reason you think. Of course, Fred is a victim of Old Person Loneliness, so the social interaction is important in solving that problem. But, we have an opportunity to go further and make Fred a useful member of society and that is something you can’t do by just giving £3 a week.

My neighbour, Barry, gave me a lift to the station on my way to work one day last spring. The thing I remember most about that journey, aside from the help it provided to my day, was Barry saying how nice it was to be useful. Barry is 76.

Now, when I’ve floated this idea past people they start worrying about hooded youths at the door of vulnerable old people and they point out that these people couldn’t use technology like I can. Like the car boot, there are issues of security (the hooded youths issue). Location is replaced with availability (will the home bound parcel carer reach the door on time). Poor old Fred with 1000’s of Amazon parcels at Christmas means the overloading problem is still there. The parcel delivery companies would still need to incorporate this new delivery centre into their systems, so no doubt there would also be cost involved. As I said when I was talking about car boot, I believe all these hurdles can be overcome.

A logistics company, working across industry (as they are with the automotive companies), with a charity like Age Concern could make this a reality. Do you think it could work?

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