ESA title

Last Mile Delivery

  • Opportunity Call for Proposals (Competitive)
  • Activity Kick-start Activity
  • Opening date 07-02-2024
  • Closing date 21-03-2024
  • WEBINAR 02 February 2024 - 11:00 CET Register

Funding opportunity

This ‘Last Mile Delivery’ opportunity offers funding for teams who would like to develop a service related to last mile delivery applications. Funding will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA) for 6-month studies called ‘Kick-Starts’, which can lead onto larger scale Demonstration Projects. Kick-Starts are funded at 75% by ESA for a maximum of €60K per contract. Proposed services must use satellite data or space-based technologies. Please see the ‘Authorisation of Funding’ section below to check whether your team is eligible for funding.

The challenge

Last mile delivery is the final stage of the delivery process, bringing goods from distribution centres to the customer’s doorstep. It accounts for over half of the total cost of shipping. The global last mile delivery market was valued at $131.5 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $288.9 billion by 2031.

Last mile delivery is mostly used in food, e-commerce, retail, or pharmaceutical industries, with customers now expecting delivery of everything from medicines to flowers to be possible. This has led to major changes and challenges in last mile logistics, with different goods having different requirements.

Logistics companies are investing in technologies such as real time tracking, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technologies, and dynamic routing to give consumers greater visibility and control over the delivery process. However, logistics providers are also struggling to deal with increasing volumes of goods, which is resulting in slower delivery times, less flexibility in delivery time slots and higher delivery costs.

New last mile delivery solutions are needed to ensure that customers have a positive buying experience and that last mile delivery systems do not become a logistical bottleneck.

Satellite applications can advance last mile delivery of perishable and non-perishable goods in a range of ways including:

  • improving operations at urban consolidation centres
  • improving delivery methods
  • optimising delivery routes
  • making the supply chain more environmentally-friendly

Topics of relevance

Some of the relevant topics which have been identified for this Kick-Start are outlined below.

Improving Logistics Facilities

Before parcels begin the final leg of their journey, they arrive at a warehouse or urban consolidation centre. These storing centres are typically located just outside a city’s border or in a city’s suburbs where goods coming from outside of the city can be combined before being delivered within or around the city. Improving warehouse operations and bringing consolidation facilities closer to final delivery points are two ways that can improve last mile delivery.

Improving warehouse operations involves:

  • optimising available space
  • adopting lean inventory
  • implementing new technologies that maximise handling efficiency
  • enhancing labour efficiency

Another emerging solution for improving logistics facilities is the development of microhubs. Microhubs are different from typical urban consolidation centres, as they bundle goods at a location closer to the final delivery point. Space applications can help improve warehouse and microhub operations with potential applications outlined below:

  • Services to plan and position microhubs, considering urban density, availability of loading/unloading infrastructure, regulations within the delivery zones (low emissions zones, restrictions on large vehicles entering city centres, congestion charges, non-motorised vehicle zones, etc), number of carriers, delivery type (B2B or B2C), type of cargo (perishable, non-food, mixed, etc), and last mile delivery mode (e-bikes, electric vehicles, etc.)
  • Services to improve the tracking, tracing, and timestamping of goods entering and leaving the warehouse
  • New handling services, which can be adopted in warehouses or microhubs to automate the selection, sorting, and palletising of goods
  • New products that can improve automation in warehouses and microhubs, such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that move cases, autonomous forklifts, swarm robots that move goods on shelves, automated storage/retrieval systems that store goods in large racks, and advanced conveyors that can move goods in any directions.
  • Services that use drones for inventory and yard management 
  • New products to help workers in consolidation centres. For example, geotagged wearables or exoskeletons that could augment human motion with mechanical power, allowing workers to move more goods safely
  • Applications that use complementary technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices to comb through big data for inventory optimisation and vehicle fill

Improving Methods of Delivery

Deliveries still largely rely on delivery drivers for the last mile, but they are one of the biggest costs for carriers. As well as the cost implications, there is also a need to find greener and more efficient methods of delivery. Crowdsourced, autonomous, e-vehicle, and multi-modal distribution are all ways of improving methods of last mile delivery. Crowdsourced delivery can improve current methods of distribution and reduce carrier costs as it uses networks of local couriers to deliver packages to customers. Autonomous last mile vehicles could be used to deliver goods, post, or groceries independently. There are various potential types of autonomous delivery vehicle, including:

  • Sidewalk pods, that can have wheels or legs and operate on pavements
  • Delivery drones, which autonomously fly to the consumer. They are more likely to deliver to rural areas than cities and are limited in what they can carry due to lifting ability
  • Self-driving vehicles, that travel via roads and can carry several packages for multiple deliveries. They can be deployed in all environmental conditions (weather, cities, rural) but must have AI sophisticated and intelligent enough to navigate safely on roads
  • Water-based delivery pods, which deliver goods autonomously using rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies near the customer

Last mile carriers could widen their use of e-mobility in their daily operations, extend the use of eco-friendly fuel alternatives, and consider alternative methods of delivery (e.g. trams).

Challenges vary depending on the setting. In a city with pavements, busy streets, pedestrians, and cyclists, all create obstacles. In the countryside, traffic is lighter, but there may be no pavements and a lack of mobile signal. Bad weather, difficult terrain, roadworks, and flooding can create other difficulties.

It is likely that there is no single solution to the last mile delivery issue because there are so many variables to consider; instead a multi-tiered approach is more likely to succeed with agile operations using a combination of semi or fully autonomous vehicles.

A list of potential applications is detailed below:

  • Services to manage crowdsourced delivery based on courier availability, mode of transport, proximity of the delivery, etc. For example, for close deliveries or deliveries in busy cities, delivery bicycle could be the ideal option, whereas a larger vehicle may be needed when delivering larger items. Services managing crowdsourced delivery should be capable of taking a wide range of factors into account, including up to date environmental, traffic, and goods-related information
  • Services that help plan and monitor the infrastructure supporting different methods of delivery e.g., vehicle charging points, loading and unloading zones, etc. For example, apps could inform vehicles of availabilities at charging points, and guide self-driving vehicles to parking spots near the delivery address for the unloading of goods
  • Services that improve the guiding, tracking, tracing, navigation, and obstacle avoidance of autonomous last mile delivery vehicles to ensure safe and efficient delivery

Optimised Delivery Routes

In logistics, the last mile delivery stage is key to overall supply chain management effectiveness because it plays such a powerful role in consumer satisfaction.

Customers want reliable, fast, responsive, and flexible delivery times that fit around their lifestyles and schedules. They are increasingly expecting same-day delivery for a wide range of products. They want the option of receiving parcels in convenient places and are requesting a transparent end-to-end process where they can track the progress of an order in real-time and make ad-hoc adjustments to its route.

Moreover, governments and society are pushing for greener deliveries. Regulatory bodies are increasingly focusing on environmental regulations and cities are introducing low emission and clean air zones.

These trends all make it imperative for logistics companies to optimise delivery routes and to share progress with the consumer. A list of potential applications is detailed below:

  • Services that improve the planning, monitoring, and mapping of delivery routes based on information like traffic, meteorological data, elevation, city layout, number of carriers, payload per truck robot charging points, microhub locations, loading and unloading zones, and customer preference.
  • Services for routing and re-routing vehicles based on real-time data inputs, such as traffic build-up and in-road obstacles, from satellite or from geo-localised crowdsourced data.

Potential users include:

  • couriers
  • warehouse operators
  • microhub operators
  • delivery companies
  • town/city planners
  • local councils

Value of space

Satellite navigation, communications and Earth observation all have important roles to play in improving last mile delivery solutions:

Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) enable accurate tracking and tracing of vehicles and goods through precise positioning, navigation, and timing. GNSS is key to guiding and navigating automated vehicles and can also assist with route optimisation. Where delivery drones are involved, systems like Galileo’s High Accuracy Service can provide high precision positioning for safe landing and take-off operations with authentication capabilities to prevent GNSS signal spoofing.

Satellite Earth Observation (satEO) imagery can be used to provide and update maps needed to route parcels to their end points. SatEO data can provide meteorological and environmental information, such as air pollution and CO2 emission measurements,which can help delivery companies monitor, forecast, and improve their carbon footprint. When combined with other data, satEO information can support the strategic planning of last mile delivery infrastructure – such as microhubs, charging points, and loading/unloading zones – to ensure customers receive their goods in good condition and a timely manner.

Satellite Communications (satcom) can be used to increase a supply chain network’s robustness and resilience. It can securely connect delivery vehicles with control centres when terrestrial communications are not available. This would enable data transfer in scenarios where goods are being transported to remote regions and to regions with poor terrestrial connectivity (for example due to a terrestrial network failure). Furthermore, satcom can provide robust communication links for autonomous and remotely-piloted vehicles in beyond radio line of sight conditions or in situations where the terrestrial network is not available.

Satcom, combined with advanced mobile networks (5G and 6G), will satisfy the requirements of high-speed, reliable, and secure communications for autonomous transport. This will, in turn, facilitate the emergence of responsive delivery vehicles with good situational awareness.

Finally, IoT will enable intelligent data transfer, helping logistics companies improve remote operations and track, monitor and manage assets.

What we look for

Kick-Start activities explore the business opportunity and the technical viability of new applications and services that exploit one or more space assets (e.g. Satellite Communications, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, or Human Spaceflight Technology).

This call for Kick-Start activities is dedicated to the theme ‘Last Mile Delivery’, which means that the call is open to companies that intend to develop space-enabled applications and services relating to last mile delivery.

How to apply

Please register by completing the online questionnaire on esa-star (this provides for the minimum ‘light registration’) Visit esa-star publications and search for this opportunity to download the official tender documentation. Official documents will include:

  • proposal templates
  • a draft contract
  • additional information about this opportunity

Use the official documents to write your proposal and obtain a ‘Letter of Support’ from your National Delegation (if needed - see Authorisation of Funding section below).

Submit your proposal via esa-star Tendering by the deadline.

Authorisation of funding

ESA Space Solutions can provide funding to perform Kick-Start activities to any company (economic operator) residing in the following Member States: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom have pre-authorised the funding to this call.

Kick-Start activities are funded at 75% by the European Space Agency for a maximum of €60K per contract.


Join our webinar on 2 February at 11:00 CET. Please use the link at the top of the page to register.