Implications of Advanced Technologies on Rural Delivery

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation integrates the strengths of individual emergent delivery technologies with package characteristics, and rural community needs to meet the demand for equitable, accessible, and inclusive rural delivery that is also cost-effective. To find ways to meet the package delivery service needs in rural areas and to fill research gaps in rural package delivery modeling, this study introduced a novel model known as the Parallel Scheduling Vehicle Routing Problem (PSVRP) in an endeavor to revolutionize package delivery by enhancing its efficiency, accessibility, and cost-effectiveness. The PSVRP represents a state-of-the-art approach to vehicle routing problems, incorporating a diversified fleet of innovative delivery modes. The multi-modal fleet of electric vans, ADVs, drones, and truck-drone systems works in unison to minimize operational costs in various settings. A solution methodology that implemented the Adaptive Large Neighborhood Search (ALNS) algorithm was designed to solve the PSVRP in this research to produce optimal or near-optimal solutions. A variety of scenarios in a rural setting that include different quantities of customers to deliver to and different package weights are tested to evaluate if a multi-modal fleet of electric vans, ADVs, drones, and truck-drone systems can provide cost-effective, low emissions, and efficient rural delivery services from local stores. Different fleet combinations are compared to demonstrate the best combined fleet for rural package delivery. It was found that implementation of electric vans, ADVs, drones, and truck-drone systems does decrease rural package delivery cost, but it does not yet decrease cost enough for the return on investment to be high enough for industry to implement the technology. Additionally, it was found that electric technologies do significantly decrease emissions of package delivery in rural areas. However, without a carbon tax or regulation mandating reduced carbon emissions, it is unlikely that the delivery industry will quickly embrace these new delivery modes. This dissertation not only advances academic understanding and practical applications in vehicle routing problems but also contributes to social equity by researching methods to improve delivery services in underserved rural communities. The PSVRP model could benefit transportation professionals considering technology-enabled rural delivery, developing rural delivery plans, looking for cost-effective rural delivery solutions, implementing a heterogeneous fleet to optimize rural delivery, or planning to reduce rural delivery emissions. It is anticipated that these innovations will spur further research and investment into rural delivery optimization, fostering a more inclusive and accessible package delivery service landscape.



Last-Mile Delivery, Vehicle Routing Problem, Adaptive Large Neighborhood Search, Electric Vans, Autonomous Delivery Vehicles, Drones, Truck-Drones