Research Projects

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Research Projects

STATUS: In Progress YEAR: 2018 TOPIC AREA: E-commerce and urban freight Freight logistics and optimization CENTER: PSR

Automation, Electrification, and Shared Mobility in Urban Freight: Opportunities and Challenges

Project Summary

Funding source: Caltrans
Funding amount: $35,392
Contract number: Caltrans 65A0674 Task Order 009
Start and end dates: February 1, 2019 to January 31, 2020

Project description

The growing interest in automation, shared mobility, and electrification (3 Revolutions or 3Rs) has mostly focused on light duty vehicles, and passenger transportation. On the contrary, the urban freight system (UFS) has been mostly overlooked, and it constitutes the next frontier for the penetration and development of such technologies.

The UFS is constantly changing and adapting and bringing with it new challenges for the sustainability of urban environments. One key challenge is that the system is highly diverse and while supply chain and logistics systems have become very sophisticated, the final transfer of the goods or services is simple in nature, though there are many factors (e.g., parking availability, access to the curb, readiness of the recipient) that make it a very complex and inefficient process. Some of these factors are unique to the UFS and could be industry specific. Understanding these factors and how they relate to the advent of the 3Rs is an important research topic. Consequently, this project explores the way urban freight activities are performed and conducts a descriptive and comparative assessment of the system's characteristics, its key needs, and how they relate to automation, sharing, and electrification. Considering previous research findings about the differences among industry segments, this work will focus on the food and retail industries which comprise a significant share of the urban freight demand and traffic (both commercial and residential). 

Specifically, the white paper will discuss the challenges and opportunities for the introduction of automation in last mile/last feet delivery operations. Whilst automation is already part of the freight system, from robots and automated processes inside manufacturing and distribution center facilities to automated port terminals, this is not the case for the final distribution process.


Miguel Jaller
Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Institute of Transportation Studies
2001 Ghausi Hall, Room 3143Davis, CA 95616
United States
mjaller at