Enhanced Virtual Reality (AR) Technology in Logistics (Part 2)


After the wide range of best practice identified in the four clusters above, we now examine implications of AR in the logistics industry. Although AR is in relatively early stages of adoption in logistics, it could offer significant benefits. For example, AR can give logistics providers quick access to anticipatory information anytime and anywhere. This is vital for the prospective and exact planning and operation of tasks such as delivery and load optimization, and is critical to providing higher levels of customer service.

At DHL Trend Research, we are transferring to logistics what we see as best practice in other industries, and we are envisioning several use cases for AR in the logistics industry. These serve as a visionary outlook and the basis for discussion rather than a concrete prediction of how AR in logistics will develop in the future.

These use cases are arranged in the following categories:

  • Warehousing Operations
  • Transportation Optimization
  • Last-mile Delivery
  • Enhanced Value-added Services

3.1        Warehousing Operations

AR has so far shown most promise for logistics in warehousing operations. These operations are estimated to account for about 20 % of all logistics costs, and the task of picking accounts for 55 % to 65 % of the total cost of warehousing operations.6 This indicates that AR has the potential to significantly reduce cost by improving the picking process. It can also help with the training

of new and temporary warehouse staff, and with warehouse planning.

Pick-by-Vision: Optimized Picking


  • Picking staff are equipped with wearable AR devices for the picking process
  • The solution offers digital navigation to find the right route and item more efficiently, while reducing training time
  • Main objectives: reduce picking errors and search time

In logistics, the most tangible AR solutions are systems to optimize the picking process. The vast majority of warehouses in the developed world still use the pick-by- paper approach. But any paper-based approach is slow and error prone. Furthermore, picking work is often undertaken by temporary workers who usually require cost-intensive training to ensure they pick efficiently and without making errors.

Systems by Knapp, SAP, and Ubimax are currently in the late field-test phase and consist of mobile AR systems such as a head-mounted display (HMD), cameras, a wearable PC, and battery packs that provide enough energy for at least one work shift. The vision picking software offers real-time object recognition, barcode reading, indoor navigation, and seamless integration of information with the Warehouse Management System (WMS). A key benefit of vision picking is its provision of hands-free intuitive digital support to workers during manual picking operations.

By using a system like this, each worker can see the digital picking list in their field of vision and – thanks to indoor navigation capabilities – see the best route, reducing their travel time by efficient path planning. Using automated barcode scanning capabilities, the system’s image recogni- tion software (e.g., provided by Knapp KiSoft Vision7) can check whether the worker has arrived at the right location, and guide the worker to quickly locate the right item on the shelf.

The worker can then scan the item and register this pro- cess simultaneously in the WMS, enabling real-time stock updates. In addition, such systems can reduce the amount of time required to orientate and train new employees, as well as bridge any language barriers with migrant workers.

Field tests of these AR systems have proved they offer significant productivity improvements in warehousing operations. For example, constant picking validation can decrease errors by as much as 40 %. Although today’s picking error rate is very low, even using a pick-by-paper approach – experts estimate a rate of 0.35 % – every error must be prevented, because it typically results in high follow-up costs.8

Warehouse Planning


  • Creating a mixed-reality simulation of warehouse operation processes
  • Modifications are overlaid in the real environment to ‘field test’ and adjust planned redesign measures
  • Main objective: support and reduce the cost of warehouse redesign and planning

AR is also likely to affect warehouse-planning processes. Today’s warehouses are not only used as storage and distribution hubs; more and more, they house a growing number of value-added services, ranging from product assembly to product labelling, repacking, and repair.

This means hubs must be redesigned to accommodate these new services. AR can be used to visualize any planned rearrangements in full scale, making it possible to place interactive digital representations of proposed future modifications in the present, real warehouse environment. Planners can test whether measurements of a planned modification will fit in place, and model new workflows. In future, this could allow a real warehouse to be used as the test bed for warehouse operation planning.

3.2    Transportation Optimization

Over the last decade, the use of advanced information technologies by logistics providers has greatly improved the efficiency, reliability, and security of freight transport- ation. AR has the potential to further optimize freight transportation in areas such as completeness checks, international trade, driver navigation, and freight loading.

Completeness Checks

  • AR devices register if a delivery is complete and ready for pick-up
  • Capturing pallet and parcel numbers and volume using markers or advanced object recognition technology
  • Automated confirmation of pick-up by AR after the correct number of undamaged parcels is recognised
  • Main objectives: time savings, completeness check, damage detection

AR can achieve more effective pick-ups. An AR-equip- ped collector could quickly glance at the load to check if it is complete. Currently, this requires manual counting or time-consuming barcode scanning with a handheld device. In the future, a wearable AR device could use a combination of scanners and 3D depth sensors to deter- mine the number of pallets or single parcels (by scanning specific markers on each parcel) or their volume (using measurement devices). This measurement is compared to

predefined values and the result – hopefully a match – will be displayed to the collector. This AR system could also scan items to detect any damage or faults.

International Trade

  • AR support for global trade service providers
  • AR devices can check (printed) trade documents and identify commodity code classification
  • Real-time translation of parcel labels or foreign trade terms
  • Main objectives: facilitate trade documentation and international freight handling

With more of the world’s regions poised to flourish economically, transport flows to and from emerging markets are increasing significantly. This represents a large opportunity for logistics providers but it also increases complexity, as there is significant variation in trade regulations and requirements around the world.

AR is likely to prove valuable for providers of global trade services. Before a shipment, an AR system could assist in ensuring the shipment complies with the relevant import and export regulations, or trade documentation has been correctly completed. An AR device can scan trade docu- ments or goods for key words and automatically propose changes or correct the commodity code classification.

After shipment, AR technology can significantly reduce port and storage delays by translating trade document text such as trade terms in real time (see the Word Lens app in section 2.1).

Dynamic Traffic Support

  • Replacement of navigation systems in delivery vehicles with AR devices (glasses or windshield projection)
  • Analysis of real-time traffic data and display of relevant information (e.g. blocked or alternative routes) in the driver´s field of vision
  • Superimposing critical information on surrounding, vehicle and cargo (e.g. temperature of cold store)
  • Main objective: optimized routing on the fly, improvement of driving safety, minimizing of driver distraction

Traffic congestion often prevents the smooth running of many economic processes that heavily depend on the smooth flow of physical goods. It’s estimated that traffic congestion costs Europe about 1 % of gross domestic product (GDP) each year.9 And as congestion increases, there is high demand for solutions to improve punctuality.

In future, we will see increasing use of dynamic traffic support with real-time traffic data to optimize routes or re-route shipments on the fly. AR driver assistance apps (either with glasses or a windshield display) could be used to display information in real time in the driver´s field of vision. In effect, AR systems will be the successors to today’s navigation systems, with a key advantage that the driver doesn’t have to take their eyes off the road. AR systems can also provide the driver with critical information displays on their vehicle and cargo (e.g, confirmation of cargo temperature).

Freight Loading


  • Use of AR devices for optimized cargo loading
  • Loader receives load plan and instructions (which pallet to take next and where to put it) directly on their AR device display
  • Renders printed load lists unnecessary
  • Main objective: speed up the freight loading process

Today, freight transportation by air, water, and road makes extensive use of digital data and planning software for optimized load planning and vehicle utilization. Issues such as content, weight, size, destination, and further pro- cessing are taken into account for each item. Even though there may be some potential for further improvement, the bottleneck is often the loading process itself.

AR devices could help by replacing the need for printed cargo lists and load instructions. At a transfer station, for example, the loader could obtain real-time information on their AR device about which pallet to take next and where exactly to place this pallet in the vehicle. The AR device could display loading instructions, with arrows or high- lights identifying suitable target areas inside the vehicle.

This information could be generated either in advance by planning software or on the spot by ad-hoc object recognition. The latter approach is comparable with the popular computing game Tetris, where the gamer has to place the next random item according to its shape in order to maximize available space and avoid gaps. In contrast to current paper-based lists, AR-supported cargo lists would also allow for real-time – something that happens quite often during the loading process.

3.3        Last-mile Delivery

Another important field of application for AR is at the last mile.10 The growing use of e-commerce has led to a boom of last-mile delivery services, which is the final step in the supply chain and often the most expensive one. Therefore, the optimization of last-mile delivery to drive down product cost and increase profit is a promising field of application for AR devices.

Parcel Loading and Drop-off

Estimates suggest that drivers spend between 40 % and 60% of their time away from the distribution center not driving. Instead, they spend much of this time locating the correct boxes within their truck for the next delivery. Currently, to find a box, drivers must rely on their memory of the loading process.

In future at the distribution center, each driver could receive critical information about a specific parcel by looking at it with their AR device. This information could include the type of goods being transported, each parcel’s weight, delivery address, and whether it is fragile or requires specific positioning to avoid damage. The device could then calculate the space requirements for each parcel in real time, scan for a suitable empty space in the vehicle, and then indicate where the parcel should be placed, taking into account the planned route.

With efficient and intelligent loading, and with AR devices highlighting the right parcel for the driver, the search process would be much more convenient and significantly accelerated at every drop-off.

In addition, AR could help to reduce the incidence of package damage. One of the key reasons why parcels get damaged today is that drivers need a spare hand to close their vehicle door, forcing them to put parcels on the ground or clamp them under their arm. With an AR device, the vehicle door could be closed ‘hands-free’ – the driver could give a voice instruction or make an eye or head movement (see the SixthSense and Revolv apps in section 2.3).

Parcel Loading & Drop-off

  • Equip staff with wearable AR devices for parcel handling, loading, and delivery processes
  • Through AR, all parcels are overlaid with critical information (e.g., contents, weight, and destination) and handling instructions, and parcels are loaded intelligently into the vehicle
  • Main objectives: improve parcel handling, avoid improper handling, ensure load optimization

Last-meter Navigation 

With the vehicle door shut and the correct parcel in the driver’s hands, often the next challenge is to find a specific building. This is particularly true when doing a first-time delivery, as there can be many complicating factors such as obscured or missing house numbers or street names, entrances hidden in backyards or, as is the case in many developing countries, no structured naming scheme for streets and buildings.

AR could be extremely helpful here; the driver could point an AR device at a building or block of buildings and it could display information such as a Google Street View or relevant details from other databases. When there’s no available public database, particularly with information on the position of entrances or other local features, the AR device could also be used to place markers, thereby building up an independent database over time. At the next delivery to the same address, the AR device could access this previously collected data; virtual layers of information could be created accordingly.

Sometimes, last-meter delivery requires indoor navi- gation. While GPS-based navigation works well out in the open, buildings sometimes cause severe interference to the GPS signal. A solution could be for the learning AR device to place LLA (latitude, longitude, altitude) markers at various internal points.

  • AR-supported identification of buildings and entrances, as well as indoor navigation for faster delivery
  • A learning system that is able to add user- generated content, particularly when public databases are unavailable
  • Main objectives: efficient indoor navigation, reduce search and delivery time, especially for first-time deliveries

AR-secured Delivery


  • AR-based unambiguous identification of the parcel receiver using face-recognition technology
  • Visual approval/refusal instead of ID card or signature
  • Main objectives: improve security of registered letters, speed up the delivery process
  • Service would require approval and registration in advance

Equipping staff with AR devices could also increase security and improve the quality of customer contact. Using facial-recognition technology, the person receiving a parcel could be unambiguously identified without having to show any ID. The AR device could take a picture and automatically match this in a secure database. Due to data privacy issues, it would be necessary for the recipient to give prior permission for use of this AR face-confirmation technique. This service may not be applicable for ordinary every-day deliveries, but when the parcel has extraordinary high value, users may appreciate this enhanced level of security as it is superior to an easily forged ID card or recipient signature.

3.4    Enhanced Value-added Services

As well as helping logistics providers to improve their processes, AR can also enable them to perform new services for their customers, such as assembly and repair, and provide new customer support tools.

Assembly and Repair

  • Assembly and repair teams are equipped with hands-free AR devices (glasses) and software that support specific tasks
  • The software blends in visual step-by-step instructions for the assembly or repair while keeping each worker’s hands free to conduct these steps
  • Main objectives: control quality, significantly reduce training costs


More and more logistics providers offer added value to customers with services such as assembly and repair. For example, DHL not only collects materials from component providers for Audi, but also assembles these components into interior door panels that are

then delivered to the Audi production plant in Germany.

Currently, skilled workers are required for such tasks, and each must be individually trained. However,

in future AR could train and aid warehouse staff to assemble a variety of products and ensure that high standards of service are maintained, potentially reducing cost for customers.

The AR system could ensure quality control by monitor- ing each work step (via enhanced image recognition) and detecting errors in the assembly process. For repair staff, it could offer an intuitive and visual way to support the identification and fixing of errors, especially with the ever-increasing number of end-consumer technologies and gadgets. The use of such interactive repair guides could significantly reduce training costs as well as the technical staff ’s average repair time.

Customer Services

In the near future, AR-enhanced parcel service applica- tions could enable customers with an AR-capable device to volume scan the measurement of goods to be shipped and estimate the weight to establish the perfect size and lowest price parcel box from their logistics provider. In addition, this app could display different shipping and insurance price options.

While such an elaborated app is not yet available today, there is a simpler version in use. The DHL Paketassistent11 lets the user print a sheet containing an icon that is similar to a QR code. Using a webcam, holograms of available DHL parcel boxes are projected for customers to then match their items to the right-size box.

In conclusion, AR has a promising future in the logistics industry. Ranging  from  picking-by-vision in warehouses to assisting customers with after-sales activities, it is clear that AR can play a part in almost every step of the logistics value chain. Although only a few of these use cases are currently being developed,

there are encouraging first signs of AR adoption in the logistics industry. This trend will continue to grow, and we hope that more logistics providers will participate to drive the AR revolution.

  • AR apps for end-consumer devices such as smartphones and tablets for a convenient shipping experience
  • Main objectives: help customers determine and order the correct shipping options by scanning the goods to be sent and overlaying this scan with a virtual representation of shipping boxes; improve parcel handling


It may be difficult to imagine smart glasses becoming an essential part of our daily appearance. And, as is often the case with new and emerging technologies, it isn’t easy to gauge whether there will be a rapid uptake of AR. But it is quite possible that AR devices will one day be as normal and widespread as smartphones.

We hope this trend report has helped to illustrate that AR is no longer in the realm of science fiction. As demonstrated by our wide variety of best practice use cases, AR is already providing tangible benefits across many industries today, including logistics.

But before AR devices (especially wearable ones) can be widely adopted in logistics, we need to overcome a number of technical and societal challenges including battery life, high investment cost, network performance

issues, privacy, and public acceptance, to name just a few.

Nevertheless, logistics providers and their customers should be aware of the benefits AR can offer now and in the future. We must be ready to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, many of which are currently untapped.

Looking ahead, AR is well positioned to deliver some of the future´s most intriguing user interfaces and display technologies, harnessing the potential to fundamentally change how we perceive information and interact in

our professional and private lives.

We are clearly in the early stages of what is sure to be an exciting journey that could result in the integration of AR into daily life in logistics – so come join us and together let’s look at reality in new ways.


Phần 1: Giới thiệu về AR
Nguồn: DHL report

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