Over the past 5-10 years, there has been a huge boom in the interest of a fully autonomous logistics model. And while technology has come rather close to giving us the very tools to accomplish such a feat, we are still not quite there.
However, with the usage of ever-advancing AI technology and access to better materials, we are always moving one step closer. As a matter of fact, some experts in the logistics field are saying that this is indeed the next big movement in the logistics industry. Further adding that it will revolutionize and bolster not just select markets, but all large scale logistics operations.
So, what does the future of autonomous supply chains and automated trucking look like? What benefits does it carry? And when will do we expect to arrive at this next great leap in the logistics industry?
Let's talk about it!
What Exactly Does Autonomous Logistics Look Like?
When you break it down simply, autonomous logistics are devoid of any human interaction. It means that the computers and AI are running the operation independent of human intervention. Sounds like something right out of a sci-fi novel, right? Terminator movies, anyone?
All doom and gloom potential aside, autonomous logistics, in theory, can produce a ton of benefits for the average supply chain. They carry the potential to greatly reduce mistakes, save thousands of people from injury, reduce the cost of shipping, and our dependence on carbon-based fuels. All around, it sounds like a wonderful idea.
However, for now, it's still just that... an idea.
How practical is fully autonomous logistics?
The complete autonomous supply chain is just not a practical solution. At least, it isn't yet. Human interaction is still currently needed to make split-second decisions, communicate effectively and intuitively with customers, and make changes on the fly. Our society is just not ready to have computers completely handle this task. But we are indeed getting closer with every passing year.
In fact, most of the leading online retailers use artificial intelligence-based software to provide updated notifications to customers on their pending shipping deliveries. That in of itself is a feat that could be considered the idea of autonomous logistics at its core. They can re-route packages based on the customer input, they're able to forward changes and delivery windows to carriers on the road, and in some places, they are even able to deliver the product.
However, a completely autonomous supply chain is still a problematic concept.
Safety concerns, and the need to have humans at the control prohibit this futuristic concept from turning into reality. Likewise, the supply chain in the United States alone makes up about 37% of all jobs. Furthermore, it employs more than 44,000,000 people. Yes, you read that right, 44 million jobs. Implementing a complete autonomous supply chain would likely pass along pink slips to more than 80% of these individuals.
There will come a day where a completely autonomous logistics space will exist. We are closer than we have ever been from such a reality, but just give it another 5 years!
What’s the Status of Automated Truck Driving?
No discussion of autonomous logistics would be complete without, at the very least, a mention of automated truck driving.
Imagine having a fleet of automatic, computer-driven semi-trucks that are capable of driving 600 miles per day. All without having to take a break, or comply with hourly driving restrictions, such as the ELD Mandate. This type of AI technology would significantly improve product delivery times across North America.
While there are several trucking and automated technology companies such as Tesla, Waymo, Daimler, and Embark leading the charge, we’re still about a decade away from this becoming a reality. But there have been some casualties, unfortunately. Due to this, there are major kinks in the systems that need to be remedied first. Uber has even recently shut down it’s self-driving Truck division to focus more their efforts on the consumer car segment.
The autonomous truck leaders are getting closer to fully testing their solutions on road. In fact, Tesla is expected to begin a platoon testing system, like Daimler – where the automated truck would be permitted to drive in certain sections, with a human “driver” in the seat available to make emergency corrections if needed.
Another larger company, Embark, is currently testing their self-driving trucks on roads between El Paso, Texas and Palm Springs, California.
It is estimated by most logistics experts, that the first self-driving trucks may be ready for actual routes in the next 5 years. However, it is expected that this integration will be slow, steady, and most importantly safe.