Smart packaging solutions for cleaner urban freight in Berlin (Germany)

By News Editor / Updated: 23 Apr 2015
Heavy traffic in city centres creates major problems in numerous European cities. To help combat this, the EU’s CITYLOG mobility project developed a solution to help reduce the number of vehicles entering the city centre and increase the sustainability and efficiency of urban delivery of goods.
Called the BentoBox, the project is based on the concept of ‘smart packaging’. Deliveries of goods are made out-of-hours to drop-off points where customers can pick them up, or where cleaner ‘last-mile’ vehicles such as a cargo bikes can deliver them to their final destination. One of the first tests of the BentoBox took place in Berlin, Germany, in 2011.
The BentoBox solution was created by CITYLOG, a project co-funded by the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and supported by the European Council for Automotive R&D (EUCAR). In 2011, the project tested the initiative in Berlin – capital of Germany and home of 3.5 million people.
The purpose of the BentoBox project is to:
  • Limit the number of trucks in downtown during rush hour and participate in decongesting the cities;
  • Provide flexibility for recipients who can collect their packages when they like;
  • Contribute to a better logistics organisation of malls and decongest delivery areas.
In action 
The BentoBox is a type of container that can be used for collecting and delivering parcels. It is composed of two elements: a fixed docking station with a user-interface (touchscreen) and a control unit and a chassis subdivided into six modules.  Each module is a removable trolley and can accommodate different-sized compartments that can be used depending on the requirements of the packages.  The docking station measures 520cm (width) x 82cm (depth) x 184cm (height); small containers measure 200cm x 67cm x 80cm. The station requires a 230v power supply.
The concept is for goods to be delivered outside of the opening hours of shops (at night or early morning) to a central location (such as a mall/shopping centre). Once the driver inserts the trolleys into the docking station’s chassis, this triggers an email/SMS to be sent via a GPRS signal informing customers of the arrival of their goods and that they can be collected. Alternatively, they can be loaded onto cleaner vehicles for their last mile delivery.
The Berlin field test ran from November 2011 to January 2012 and was divided into three phases:
During the whole test phase
BentoBox was used as a collection and distribution point. Two cargo bikes[1] and two light commercial vehicle couriers delivered the bundled shipments;
9-27 January 2012
‘Overnight service’: The shipments were collected in the BentoBox and consecutively transported to messenger headquarters without using cars to enter inner-city Berlin;
16-27 January 2012
Constin (who provided space in their backyard for the BentoBox) placed parcels in the containers which were then collected by messenger daily at 4pm. Constin could place its parcels in the BentoBox at any time. 

[1] Two types of electrically assisted bikes were used in the BentoBox test: Cargo (e)-bikes with a load capacity of up to 70 kg; and Cruiser bikes with a capacity of 250kg (the dimension of a EUR-pallet) and a 80 km range
After only a short period of testing, the BentoBox has shown to be functionally reliable. Even with urgent courier orders during the Christmas period no errors or delays occurred. The BentoBox allowed for the bundling of orders which resulted in a reduced number of courier trips in the test area. During the two-month test period a total number of 657 shipments were temporarily stored in the BentoBox. In total 25 per cent of the orders were transported by light commercial vehicles. By making use of the BentoBox, 85 per cent of the conventional light commercial vehicles’ routes in the test area could be replaced by cargo bikes. This lead to results that included:
  • a more efficient use of existing infrastructure;
  • a reduction of noise;
  • a reduction of greenhouse gas and particle emissions.
Challenges, opportunities and transferability 
A BentoBox can be placed in any metropolitan area with the necessary amount of consignments – for example residential neighbourhoods, shopping malls or business areas with many offices. The only crucial requirement an electric power source and an area that is easily accessible for both customers and service providers. During the whole of the test phase, the only problems that arose with the handling of the BentoBox were related to the prototype specific hardware and software issues. However, these problems were not affecting the BentoBox concept itself. Berlin is currently working on three new BentoBoxes in which these issues are solved.
The BentoBox also proved to be a very transferable solution as it was tested in both Piemonte (Italy) and Lyon (France) – in the latter during six weeks between February and March 2012 at the Centre Commercial Part Dieu in a collaboration between TNT and the fashion brand Kookaï. Michèle Vullien, vice-president of Grand Lyon responsible for transport and mobility, said: ‘Grand Lyon wishes to develop innovative logistic solutions which respect the environment. The BentoBox responds to this wish. This system, tested commercially today, may tomorrow be used by individuals. The delayed arrival of trucks in dense areas and fewer deliveries to individuals reduces congestion and improves air quality.' 
Urban freight/city logistics
Dr. Julius Menge
Saskia van Dijk
13 Apr 2015
23 Apr 2015