Jun 21, 2018

What is grandiosely called Last Mile Logistics is nothing more than the delivery of parcels and packages to the end customer or to be more precise the attempted delivery thereof.

According to a study in 2013 60 percent of all end customers complained about delivery issues. These delivery issues can become quite expensive for the deliverer. According to estimates courier and parcel services are paying about one billion Euros for repeated deliveries. With the growth in online trades (+17 percent in 2014) the amount of parcels sent will continue to increase. While in August 2013 the newspaper “Die Welt” reported the billion parcel threshold exceeded, in 2014 the Bundesverband Internationaler Express- und Kurierdienste already estimated a volume of 2.7 billion packages and parcels.

In 2004 about 1.85 billion packages and parcels had been sent. This means that within the last 10 years the amount of deliveries have increased by up to 46 percent. Most experts expect further increase.

The rapidly increasing number of packages however is not the only challenge delivery services are facing. The customers increased expectations is putting under pressure as well. Offers such as Amazon Prime, guaranteeing delivery within 24 hours or the promise of currently a few American food retailers to deliver within no more than 2 hours is shaking up the industry. In short the customers demand is: “I want everything and I want it now”. For years experts have been given this phenomenon the term: Now Economy.

So far every attempt to solve the last mile problem have been temporarily solutions at best. The fact that at the time parcel services try to deliver a package most people are at work can hardly be changed. Due to that many now annoyed customers make their way to the pick-up stations one day after a failed delivery, ring at the door of their (now equally annoyed) neighbor or make their way to the packing station. The latter only if there is a packing station nearby in the first place and is not, as it had often been the case in the past months, been piled with unclaimed packages.

It would be much better if packages and parcels could be delivered to the recipient even when he is not at home – just like letters. This of course would require a larger, preferably weather resistant container which could only be opened by the recipient and persons he authorized as well as the parcel delivery staff. A letter box for parcels, namely a parcel box. Larger delivery services and specialized service providers have already been offering such parcel boxes to their customers for a year. A significant challenge for them has been the lock for these boxes. It cannot be mechanic as otherwise delivery staff would have to carry around hundreds of keys. Even on the recipients side a mechanical key is less than optimal. A digital key would be purposeful and that is where KOBIL comes into play.

KOBIL developed two cryptographic key systems. One functions as a hardware token, transmitting key information to the parcel box via Nearfield Communication. The function is entirely comparable to a mechanical key. Along with the parcel box the manufacturer produces two hardware token, provided with a fixed cryptographic key. This key is registered on a security management server und is only opening the parcel box has been delivered with. The server is working as the identity master server, managing and checking the identities.

For the parcel service provider the system is working a little different. He does not require a hardware token but loads the respective cryptographic keys, allowing him to open the parcel boxes he delivers to, into his handheld scanner, before going on his tour. In order to to so he registers the scanner on the server which executes several security checks – for example the identity of the handheld scanner – und stores the encrypted keys on the scanner. While doing so the server is informed by the planning system which tour is planned for the respective scanner at that day and which parcel boxes will be delivered.

The token based lock system has already been in use with German logistics companies since May this year. But we from KOBIL do not want to concentrate on hardware based varients alone but have developed a virtual key identity management as well, at which the smart phone is used as a distinct key identity. At this version the smart phone app takes the role of the hardware token.

The app key is as secure as the hardware based variant. On the side of the deliver the function is the same as the hardware based lock variety. Next to the mobile multi-factor-authentication the smart phone app is offering additional comfort functions to the customer. The mobile key app, developed and hardened with the help of KOBIL technology, uses a procedure, meeting even the high security requirements of various penetration tests such as that of the Franhofer institute for secure information technology (SIT).

The comfort functions in the first place relate to the option of the recipient to authorize other persons he trusts, to open the parcel box. However the precondition for this is that this person is also a registered customer of the parcel delivery service provider and possesses the app as well. If that requirement is met the original recipient can delegate the authorization and limit the time of this authorization.

In addition such an app is, depending on the logistics company, able to include a tracking and tracing function, which, with a deviation of a few hours, is can inform the recipient, where his parcel is at that moment and when it will arrive. The Information is sent via encrypted internet message (KOBILs Secure Messaging) which can only be opened by the authorized user. With predefined answers the user can even tell the logistics center to deliver the parcel at a later time.

Such a digital, cryptographic locking system is of course not just able to unlock parcel boxes of private households. The KOBIL solution is also working with regular doors like for e.g. hotel rooms, garages or even front doors.