From discussing 3D printing to workplace automation, we at Argentus are always trying to stay on top of technological developments that will impact Supply Chain and its related disciplines. Because Supply Chain is intimately tied up with both technological progress (both in terms of software and hard goods / transportation technology), as well as increasing globalization, it’s a fast-evolving field. It’s part of what makes it exciting for professionals working in the field, who can expect their skills to grow and evolve in the coming years as the technology behind the Supply Chain field itself does. One emerging technology that’s been getting a lot of hype in the past few years is the self-driving car. In 2011, Google announced that this technology that had been envisioned and imagined for the better part of the 20th century was within its grasp, as a result of increasing sophistication of computer navigation, GPS technology, and camera technology. Apple has pledged to jump into the game, targeting 2019 as its shipping date for its own self-driving car. Since this technology seems closer than ever, analysts have picked up speculation about the implications of driverless cars in terms of their impact on automotive safety, liability, as well as on the job prospects for the massive workforce of truck drivers (which consists of 3.5 million individuals in the U.S. alone). Which has led us to wonder: what will be the impact of driverless cars and trucks on the Logistics field in general? It’s speculated that this technology might lower the demand for truck drivers – but for logistics planners and service providers (3PLs), are there opportunities for Supply Chain efficiency and strategic advantages? In an attempt to get a better handle on this emerging trend and how it will impact the Logistics field, express logistics leader DHL commissioned a great report on the topic that came to our attention recently. A few key benefits from autonomous driving outlined by the report:
- Improved Safety through a reduction in driver error.
- Lower Environmental Impact through having fewer vehicles on the road and more efficient fuel consumption.
- Higher Efficiency through speeding up traffic flows, and by allowing freight trucks to travel 24/7 without requiring driver rest time.
The report cites a staggering statistic, that autonomous driving could lower costs for freight by as much as 40% per kilometre. Wow. The impact of this technology on the logistics field (letting aside the wider world of transportation) might be huge. As DHL’s report says, “there is a strong case for suggesting that the logistics industry will adopt self-driving vehicles much faster than most other industries.” This adoption of the technology will probably initially take place in secure, private areas like warehouses and open-air sites – and the report outlines how vehicles carrying freight have less liability issues than vehicles carrying people, which also points towards an early adoption of the technology by the Logistics field. According to the report, the core areas that self-driving technology will impact in Logistics are:
- Warehousing Operations, through technologies like autonomous loading, auto pallet movers, and assisted order picking.
- Line Haul Transportation, through technologies like assisted highway trucking, and convoys with one live driver in a truck in front with oversight over a convoy of autonomous vehicles behind it.
- Last-mile Delivery, which the report calls both “the least predictable part of the entire journey” and “the most visionary application of self-driving vehicles in logistics.” Advances in autonomous driving promise to transform and improve last-mile delivery through technologies such as parcel station loading, shared cars, and (get this) self-driving parcels.
Perhaps the most likely near-term outcome of advances in autonomous vehicles is that a hybrid approach will emerge, with control still in the hands of a driver, but with more technologies automating the driving process with the goal of achieving the gains noted above. Quite a few automotive manufacturers are already embracing hybrid automated technologies that still demand human attention such as adaptive cruise control, and a number of logistics service providers are already beginning to deploy partially-automated transportation systems.