The Missing Mile — Exploring the Autonomous Odyssey | AV for Last and First-mile Transportation

Prathyusha Shastry
5 min readJul 8, 2023


In recent years, autonomous vehicles have emerged as a disruptive technology, reshaping the landscape of transportation systems around the globe. From personal cars to public transportation, the potential applications of self-driving vehicles are vast and varied.

In the Indian context, where mobility is a critical challenge faced by the burgeoning population, autonomous vehicles hold immense promise for transforming transportation and logistics.

As designers, it’s essential to be aware of emerging technologies, including autonomous vehicles (AVs), and their impact on transportation. This study is a comprehensive design research endeavor aimed at understanding the evolving landscape of AVs. By delving deep into this subject, we seek to gain insights into the implications, opportunities, and design considerations brought about by technological advancements. Our goal is to develop innovative and user-centered solutions that address the evolving needs of mobility in today’s rapidly changing technological environment.

Credit — Pinterest

Through a design research and analysis lens, this article presents you with the applicability of autonomous vehicles, specifically in the context of Indian university campuses, and uncovers a range of both obvious and not-so-obvious facts.

Self-Driving Cars Technology & Solutions | NVIDIA Automotive

A Mutual-Aid Intelligent Delivery Service for Indian University Campuses: An Analysis on the Current Mobility System
By Lakshmi Prathyusha (Author), Harleen Dhawan & Chirasmita Das.


With an increase in the number of smartphone and internet users in India, early-age adoption of technology and a change in buying behaviors are observed (“Understanding Consumer Behavior: Insights” from McKinsey and Forrester, 2021). The convenience and accessibility of online platforms, especially for students, are a significant part of the online delivery market in India. However, many universities or educational campuses do not allow delivery services within the campus, which leads to the missing ‘last mile’.

The degree of satisfaction with the current delivery system was comprehended by understanding the pain points, needs, behaviors, and expectations of the two parties, i.e., students and delivery agents. Our research revolved around understanding the current system as well as the feasibility and requirements to adapt to a new tech-based system.

In addition to the delivery service, the need for smooth on-campus mobility services is also highlighted in the study which also suffers from the first and last mile problem. Implementing a sustainable and efficient delivery service, along with an optimized mobility service, will not only benefit the young generation but also promote the growth of the e-commerce economy. Ultimately, our study emphasizes the importance of addressing the evolving needs of university students and adapting to the changing landscape of the e-commerce industry.

How did we do it?

To achieve our objectives, We employed a combination of methods to gather data, including in-depth interviews, contextual inquiry, visual ethnography, participatory workshops, scenario testing, and a questionnaire-based survey to determine the degree of satisfaction with the current system. There is a gap in traditional models, which are incapable of meeting the needs for optimized pick-up, delivery, segregation, storage, and distribution.

Research methodology — conceptual framework

Data analysis suggests leveraging intelligent technologies like drones, automation, and IoT-based systems.

Initially exploring short-distance mobility using AV in an Indian context, we narrowed our focus based on insights gained from a pilot study. The approach combined qualitative and quantitative methods to ensure comprehensive analysis.

Find more details in the attached document


At the end of the data collection, 151 stakeholders were involved in the study. The participants were distributed across the country and across different cities (tier 1, tier 2, tier 3) and socio-cultural-economic backgrounds.

Universities for field study: IISc, University of agriculture (Bengaluru), National Institute of Design & National Institute of Technology (Trichy)

Major insights related to autonomous vehicles:

  • Better mobility measures for last-mile travel were required for special case scenarios such as luggage or goods to carry, bad weather as well as collection and drop-off of parcels and delivery.
  • AV in public mobility systems would be feasible in controlled environments and not in the current unstable infrastructure and social conditions (in an Indian context).
  • The key finding from the study was that the delivery system within campus settings faces a significant gap of needs and wants between key stakeholders, namely delivery agents and students.
  • The conventional delivery service approach lacks efficacy in addressing the challenges associated with identifying, tracking, sorting, storing, and distributing packages.
  • Additionally, the study reveals that there is a growing preference for technology over human intervention, highlighting the potential for leveraging technological advancements to enhance the service’s intelligence, efficiency, sustainability, accuracy, and speed.
  • The impact of this last mile gap is noteworthy, as it has been observed to influence students’ purchasing behavior, which accounts for a considerable proportion of e-commerce revenue.

We hope our findings will inspire further research in this area and encourage the adoption of intelligent systems to meet the evolving needs of the campus community while adapting to the changing landscape of the e-commerce industry.


After analyzing the challenges faced by students and delivery agents in the current on-campus delivery and mobility systems, our research suggests a two-pronged approach to tackle the problem of the “missing mile”. —

  • Firstly, we propose the establishment of a mutual-aid intelligent delivery service that can efficiently handle the drop-in, storage, pickup, and doorstep drop-off of online packages on educational campuses without human intervention.
    This service would ensure a seamless delivery experience for students while optimizing the use of campus resources.
  • Secondly, we recommend the implementation of an automated intelligent mobility service within the campus that caters to students’ needs in a flexible manner. Such a service would provide students with a quick, reliable, and sustainable mode of transportation, addressing the current limitations of the traditional campus shuttle system. The use of autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles for this service would reduce human error and increase efficiency while improving the overall campus experience for students.

Design prompts in the attached pdf

Our proposal aligns with the evolving needs of the campus community and the changing landscape of the e-commerce industry. It would not only cater to the young generation’s needs but also contribute to the growth of the e-commerce economy.

Find more details in this document

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Prathyusha Shastry

Communication and Interaction designer | Masters in design from National Institute of Design | Website