What is mLogistics?

To reach consumers in underserved markets, firms often need to build laborious and expensive logistics and distribution infrastructures.  Given the difficulties intrinsic to these markets, this cost is unaffordable outright or unsustainable over the course of a normal business cycle, thereby preventing manufacturers and retailers from serving low-income, high volume consumer markets.  This is harmful not only to the firms themselves, but to consumers in underserved regions, as it leaves them with scarce options for obtaining the basic products they need on a daily basis.  

The advent of Smartphone and tablet computing platforms has advanced the power and functionality of mobile devices exponentially, to the point that we now carry ubiquitous, always connected handheld personal computers.  Global consumer patterns and Moore’s Law both predict that these advanced technologies will soon reach a mass scale in developed markets, and quickly thereafter in emerging markets, as has been the case with previous generations of mobile devices.

The mission of the MIT m-Logistics Initiative is to understand the basic commercial processes in resource-constrained environments (pricing, transaction, procurement), and to design and deploy a mobile software platform that can enable Industry Partners to distribute their products to low-income markets with substantially lower overhead.  

How does it work?

The opportunity lies in leveraging the widespread adoption of mobile phones and transforming it from a primarily voice-based medium, into an interactive, data intensive platform for real-time personal coordination, collaboration and ultimately logistics-efficient commerce at the individual consumer level.  Our hypothesis is that such platform can significantly decrease friction in a) price information, b) payments, and c) procurement for existing commercial transactions in resource-constrained environments where it is adopted.  

Our objectives are:

  1. To study the mechanics of commercial transactions in low-income, high volume markets in general, as well as in a particular geographic location.  We’ll be analyzing three main variables: a) price information, b) transactions, and c) procurement, all key to decreasing friction in commercial operations of all types
  2. To design a next generation mobile logistics platform appropriate to the insights obtained in this study, and to develop it as a collaborative academic endeavor within MIT, with Industry Partnerships, and with local universities in underserved areas
  3. To deploy this platform organically in a given test-bed, observing adoption as well as commercial behavior at the individual and group levels, measuring changes in the three main experimental variables
  4. To synthesize results into research insights that can be acted on concretely, both academically and commercially

What are the key benefits & deliverables?

Leveraging NextLab’s experience in the design and deployment of mobile technologies for resource-constrained environments, in 2010 the MIT mLogistics Initiative built and tested a set of prototypes that form the basis of a groundbreaking mobile-cloud platform.  Initiative deliverables for 2011 were designed to consolidate this platform as a flexible enabler of self-provisioning, low-overhead distribution networks in resource constrained environments.  They are:  

- A Mobile Innovation Prototype customized to Industry Partners’ specific business needs

- A Business Case for the Prototype, emphasizing implementation, scale and profitability for Partner  

- A project presentation to be used in the m-Logistics Event Spring 2011 as well as other events in which Industry Partners could present the project

  • An online demo video of the Prototype
  • An integrated database with all pilot deployment metrics  
  • Quantitative analysis of each Industry Partner’s pilot deployment
  • Aggregated quantitative analysis of all pilot deployments
  • A NextLab Industry Partner Engagement Report
  • The second release of the mLogistics platform

Download m-Logistics project details 

Who do I contact?

Dr. Edgar Blanco
Co-founder, Director, MIT mLogistics Initiative
Executive Director, Center for Latin American Logistics Innovation
Research Associate, Center for Transportation & Logistics

Jhonatan Rotberg
Co-founder, MIT mLogistics Initiative
Lecturer, MIT Engineering Systems Division
Visiting Scientist, Center for Transportation & Logistics