Remote Bring-Site Monitoring in the United Kingdom – the Straightsol Project

Context of Transport Climate Action

Oxfam is a registered charity in England and Scotland, having around 1300 donation banks/sites (textiles and books) situated across the UK. At present, bank collections are not driven by the amounts of materials in the banks. Schedules are based around historical or ‘typical’ fill rates and can often result in collection vehicles travelling to remote banks, only to find that the banks are near-empty since few donations were made since the previous collection.

If banks can be checked remotely then more meaningful collection schedules can be devised, focusing on the most profitable banks that need servicing more or less frequently depending on the level of donations and avoiding wasted trips. As part of the Straightsol project, collection bins were equipped with infrared sensors to see how full they are.

Description

The demonstration involved equipping Oxfam banks with infra-red sensors that measured how full the banks were, reporting these data twice daily, with these data being used to schedule collections more efficiently. Collections from banks during the demonstration were undertaken with the assistance of the University of Southampton, which had developed a specially designed vehicle routing and scheduling algorithm to suggest suitable vehicle rounds based on the remote monitoring data. The proposed routes of the algorithm for each day of operation were assessed by Oxfam’s transport manager and were adapted, as seen fit, for implementation, taking into account issues such as round balancing, vehicle access restrictions, staff availability and other constraints.

After extensive testing of the remote monitoring equipment and of the algorithm, the demonstration went live in 2013.

Implementation

For the purpose of the pilot, infra-red sensors were purchased from a third party equipment provider, Smartbin.com, who also hosted the web interface to the sensor data. A data reporting level of two reports per day was provided. Daily vehicle schedules were devised with the aid of a bespoke algorithm developed and run by the University of Southampton. The algorithm’s suggested routes were checked for suitability by Oxfam’s transport manager and modified as desired before being implemented the next working day.

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In the initial design and trial implementation, all donation banks in the demonstration area were equipped with sensors. However, due to technical problems, by the time of the live demonstration only 53% of the banks were monitored. Historical bank data were used to estimate bank fill levels in the absence of any remote monitoring data.

The demonstration was based at Oxfam’s Southern Logistics Centre, Milton Keynes, UK (around 90km north-west of London). A vehicle fleet of up to 5 small lorries (with a carrying capacity of 6 ton) and one van  was available to be used each day, with four or five vehicles typically being required on any given day. The live demo ran for a period of 36 days.

The pilot was developed as part of the Straightsol, an EU-funded project, comprising seven innovative cutting edge urban freight demonstrations.

Benefits

  • 28% reduction in total number of bank visits made — 36 out of 56 bank sites were visited less often;
  • The total time and millage savings were modest due to organizational constrictions, such as fixed collection days at stores. Therefore, the usage of the system did not outweigh the extra time needed for operational planning.
  • Without such constrains, an increased transport efficiency, and thus reduced greenhouse gas emissions,  of up to 25% is estimated.

Potential for scaling up

Applying a remote monitoring system in combination with smart routing algorithms can be implemented for several different collection services (waste, recycling, charity) worldwide. Using this technology can result in more efficient collection services and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The effect will be greatly dependent on the organizational restrictions of the collection services.

Selected references

http://www.straightsol.eu/demonstration_C.htm

Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWNRYSFfNxk

PROJECT INFORMATION

Location:

Europe

Start:

2011

Finish:

2014

Tags:

Europe, Freight, Truck, Mitigation, Technology

Organizer/s:

Oxfam, University of Southampton

Contact/s:

Steve Smith, stesmith@oxfam.org.uk; Tom Cherrett, T.J.Cherrett@soton.ac.uk