May 30, 2018

DHL to build logistics innovation center in Chicago area

First U.S. technology hub will open in 2019, supporting warehouse and transportation platforms such as smart glasses, collaborative robots, and chatbots.

By DC Velocity Staff

Transportation and logistics provider DHL said Wednesday it had begun construction on a technology innovation center outside Chicago that is intended to support the development of future logistics and supply chain solutions when it begins operations there next summer.

The Americas Innovation Center in Rosemont, Ill., will be the German company's third innovation center, following facilities in Germany and Singapore. The 24,000-square-foot building will host up to 300 people per day, allowing DHL to exhibit its current logistics technologies, foster the development of future platforms, and support collaboration between DHL customers, technology providers, and academic researchers, Mike Parra, CEO of DHL Express Americas, said in an interview.

DHL chose to add a U.S.-based facility in order to build on its existing partnerships with technology providers and startup firms in the Americas region, and to invite customers to give input on the types of logistics challenges and solutions in their own operations, he said.

To date, DHL has used this approach to apply technologies such as adding augmented reality functionality to smart glasses used in warehouse order picking tasks, using virtual reality programs for employee training, and deploying collaborative robots such as Rethink Robotics Inc.'s Sawyer for picking and packing work in fulfillment, the company said.

To identify future directions for warehouse and transportation technology development, DHL will use the Chicago-area innovation center to hold meetings and workshops where it collects input from customers, studies reports from researchers, and hosts demonstrations by technology providers, Parra said.

DHL has already followed this process to generate product research and pilot projects in areas such as real-time direction updates and vehicle tracking for parcel delivery drivers, and online chatbots and voice-bots that add artificial intelligence (AI) to websites or smart speakers, Parra said.

"Chatbots are particularly important to our millennial customers, who are often working off their mobile devices and smart phones," Parra said. "They don't really need to speak to anybody at DHL, they just need to use their phone to transact with us and ask questions like how to put together an international shipment, or what paperwork is required to ship something to Australia."

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