The algorithm making it easier to access local products
The start-up "Le Chemin des Mûres " has developed an intelligent transportation solution for the distribution of local farm produce. Its tailored software program calculates rounds that are optimised from start to finish, enabling growers to pool their deliveries together and to save both time and money while supporting the local economy. This tool, developed within Inria in collaboration with the Inocs * team, is part of a wider environmental strategy aimed at reducing the impact of transport at a global level.
Despite growing demand from consumers for regional products, it is still easier for growers and farmers to sell their goods at a national level than it is to sell them locally. This paradox can be explained by the absence of transport logistics adapted to local commerce. “As things currently stand, growers are forced to distribute their own products themselves in utility vehicles that are often less than half-full. Time spent on the road is costly and doesn't provide any added value ”, observes Nils Olivier , co-founder of the start-up "Le Chemin des Mûres" (LCDM) and an expert when it comes to innovation.
However, operating in a short circuit could prove beneficial to growers. This would help develop social proximity while cutting down on expenses by reducing the number of temporary staff employed. It would also boost visibility, with the products themselves able to stay fresher. With this in mind, "Le Chemin des Mûres", a project launched in 2018 and with its roots in research work carried out at Inria, set about developing a transport organisation program for local food products. This solution, as well as its wider social and environmental implications, could be of interest to 100,000 growers across France.
The program processes transport requests - many of which are quite restricted - and generates journeys in real-time. This is a dynamic solution in that it is capable of handling requests made by growers on the fly
From the blackberry bush to the blackberry: getting back in touch with the land
"Le Chemin des Mûres" worked in collaboration with the Inocs * team from Inria, specialists in operational research, in order to develop a bespoke algorithm enabling growers to pool their deliveries together. Although the concept is similar to BlaBlaCar, this is more than a question of simply putting growers in contact with each other. Their goal is to organise deliveries from start to finish. Consider the following example. A user needs to deliver vegetables to a professional, so they specify the quantity of product, the location and the delivery date using the application. "Le Chemin des Mûres" will then either incorporate this into an existing round or suggest pooling their vehicle, provided it is available, prior to sending them a delivery schedule. The grower/delivery person today will be able to use someone else’s vehicle tomorrow. This concept is economical from a transport point of view, giving a greater degree of flexibility to users and enabling them to deliver their products locally more often. But how does it work?
“The program processes transport requests - many of which are quite restricted - and generates journeys in real-time. This is a dynamic solution in that it is capable of handling requests made by growers on the fly ”, explains Martin Bué , an optimisation engineer. In the context of a standard logistical optimisation problem, the aim is to calculate the shortest possible journey in terms of time or distance. The problem here is that this type of solution could systematically exclude certain growers from pooled deliveries, not to mention the resulting profits, something "Le Chemin des Mûres" were keen to prevent from happening.
In addition to the location of growers, "Le Chemin des Mûres" also take into account the type of vehicle (whether or not it is refrigerated, its capacity, etc.), the type of products and the times when clients are available. What matters most is having the right vehicle (refrigerated for perishable goods, for example) in the right place at the right time. The goal is to ensure that each user within a trip is able to benefit in terms of costs or time.
Once the deliveries have been made to professional clients (restaurant owners, retailers, etc.) or to relay points (La ruche qui dit oui!, Amap), growers are paid a fair price. "Le Chemin des Mûres" offer a transparent economic model, with an algorithm used to calculate actual transport costs (fuel, vehicle maintenance, etc.) developed by the IFSTTAR [logicout.fr]) This program is also used by the start-up to assess performance, enabling them to compare costs before and after using their solution.“We take a percentage based on the economic performance of each delivery round.What this means is that if the client is not making any money, then neither are we ”, adds Nils Olivier .
This prototype will help us to develop a better understanding of real-life challenges, with a view towards devising solutions better suited to the reality of the situation
Developing local on a larger scale
The start-up has had the time to mature its project thanks to backing from Inria and the company creation support initiative. It will now be setting up a field experiment for one month during the summer of 2019. “This prototype will help us to develop a better understanding of real-life challenges, with a view towards devising solutions better suited to the reality of the situation ”, explains Adrien Flandrin , a specialist in food distribution. Through the Chambres d’agriculture, "Le Chemin des Mûres" were able to find two groups of between 40 and 80 growers to test their program. This step will provide a proof of concept ahead of a possible final product launch in early 2020. This will be in the form of either a website or an application, with additional programming interfaces (API) directly connected to other websites, including marketplaces. Such websites link growers with customers, but don’t offer delivery solutions once the transactions have gone through. “Our proposal is designed to work hand-in-hand with these sites. By incorporating our solution, we take direct responsibility for the delivery of a sale ”, explains Nils Olivier .
There is considerable scope for development in the future. Once the system becomes operational, "Le Chemin des Mûres" is keen to add to its offer by incorporating professional haulage companies, thus adding a degree of regularity to deliveries. What’s more, after conquering France, the solution could be set for expansion overseas. It’s not just in France that people want to “buy local”.
*Inocs is a joint Inria project team with the CRIStAL laboratory (Centrale Lille, CNRS, Université de Lille) and Université Libre de Bruxelles.
"Le Chemin des Mûres" won the 3rd prize in the Agrinove contest! This competition rewards innovative projects on the border between agriculture and other fields. The start-up stood out among the 34 shortlisted projects by its revolutionary approach that will facilitate the transport of goods of small producers. The price of 5000 € will allow Martin Bue, Adrien Flandrin and Niels Olivier to continue the development of their prototype in the best conditions.