Crowdsourced courier app Passel partners with Swinburne on job assignment algorithms

Melbourne start-up partners with university's data science team to pick best 'passer' for the delivery

Crowdsourced delivery start-up Passel is partnering with Swinburne University to develop algorithms to help it identify the best person to notify about a potential courier job.

Individuals registering with the Passel app share their location and home address with the company and if they are close to a shop that needs a courier and are on their way passed a drop-off, they are given an alert about the available delivery job.

Passel – whose app is aimed at shoppers and retail workers – is working with Swinburne’s Data Science Research Institute to create an assignment model that will make the service more efficient.

“The challenge for Passel is to identify the passer who would be least inconvenienced by the delivery and offer them the job. At scale, it’s not possible to do this with the current systems,” said project leader, Dr Hadi Ghaderi.

“From the data Passel has shared with us, we are using advanced analytics and real time optimisation methods that will consider a potential passer’s trajectory. We look at the routes passers travel and target those whose trajectory matches the delivery needs,” he said.

There are currently 3000 people signed up to Passel – called passers – and more than 30 stores in the a number of Australian cities are using the service. The company is about to launch in Ireland.

“Passel has been really open entering into this collaboration with us and has shared its data with us. This data will enable us to undertake more research in personal mobility and logistics,” Ghaderi said.

Passel’s business model avoids some of the inefficiencies of traditional courier companies, such as having to pay delivery drivers even in times of low demand.

“The challenge for transport companies has always been managing supply and demand. You have to make sure there are enough drivers around to do deliveries so you can maintain a service, but if you have too many drivers your costs go out of control and people aren’t prepared to pay,” Hughes said.

However, Passel says it is unlike similar crowdsourced services like Shyp (which ended operations after five years in 2018) and Uber’s RUSH (which also closed down last year) because the passers don’t expect to make a living from deliveries. Passers receive $10 for each delivery they complete.

The company makes a point of saying it is “NOT the Uber for couriers”.

“The ‘Uber for couriers’ are the casual courier companies already in existence. The key difference is that casual couriers, much like professional couriers, are on the road trying to make a living, even if only for a few hours a day. Passers are normal people who only will do a delivery if it’s convenient for them,” says company founder Marshall Hughes.

Hughes said that once the algorithms had been developed, they could potentially be used by other businesses.

“We think we can help other sharing companies, once we perfect our platform, to enable the right person to help someone at the right time,” he said.

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