Are Robots Taking Over The Freight Industry?


Are robots taking over the freight industry

There’s no doubt the trucking industry is undergoing a massive technology shift.

With terms like autonomous vehicles, warehouse robotics, and supply chain IOT, it’s easy to think that AI (Artificial Intelligence) is taking over everything. This article discusses three big shifts and the realities of a fully automated industry in the near future.

1. Self-Driving Trucks

Likelihood of taking over: 60%

Last month Starsky Robotics deployed a fully unmanned truck on a 9.4 mile stretch of the Florida Turnpike. This was the first time a completely unmanned truck was tested on public roads. A remote “driver” roughly 200 miles away handled the first and last mile operations of the truck, equating about 0.2 miles of the 9.4 mile run. So how likely are we to see a fully automated truck rolling down the road? Let’s first explore the 6 levels of automation and where we are today. Below are the 6 levels of vehicular automation according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Level 0 (No Automation) — zero autonomy; the driver performs all driving tasks.
Level 1 (Driver Assistance) — the vehicle navigated by the driver, with some driving assist features included in the vehicle’s design. Level 1 trucks are common today.
Level 2 (Partial Automation) — also common today, the vehicle has combined automated functions, like acceleration and steering, but the driver must remain engaged at all times.
Level 3 (Conditional Automation) — the driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment. The driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times with notice.
Level 4 (High Automation) — the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions.
Level 5 (Full Automation) — expected to perform equal to a human driver, in all scenarios and conditions without a driver present.
This certainly is an exciting time of progress for the future of automated trucking. However, a 9.4 mile stretch is just a small accomplishment, especially when compared to the hundreds of miles driven by human truckers each day. For now, our prediction is that drivers will reap the benefits of in-cab assistance on Level 1-3 trucks for a long while before their services are rendered obsolete.

“As technology continues to advance, companies will be able to implement robotic teams with little to no interruption to their operation.”

2. Warehouse Robotics

Likelihood of taking over: 90%

Who could complain about saving time and money while avoiding discrepancies and getting the job done? Certainly not any logistics manager. That is why robots in warehouses are leading the way to supply chain automation, by far. In 2019, robotics in the workplace aren’t just an idea from a sci-fi film, they’re reality. Larger operations are utilizing robots to move product, manage inventory and load/unload trucks. These robots have completely eliminated the need for manual data entry and record keeping. As technology continues to advance, companies will be able to implement robotic teams with little to no interruption to their operation. ROIs are already being proven – companies who utilize this new technology see greater productivity and reduced operating costs overall. Recently, Amazon announced its $700 million effort to “upskill” nearly 100,000 employees. In other words, Amazon is paying to train employees who may be affected by automation into new, mainly tech-focused, jobs. This is a sobering acknowledgement of the impact of automation on jobs and the United States workforce. Now, if I could just get a robot to bring me my coffee. I prefer it as black as a moonless night, just sayin’.

3. Supply Chain IoT

Likelihood of taking over: 20%

IoT stands for Internet of Things. This simply refers to any internet connected device that communicates with other devices, networks or servers. These days that includes anything from a small wearable sensor on your wrist like a Fitbit to a massive data center and everything in between. It’s important to remember that IoT serves to enhance, not replace. It may not take over a trucker’s job or hold as much shock value as robots and self driving trucks, but IoT in the supply chain is creating visibility unlike anything we’ve seen before. Numerous retailers and manufacturers are already embracing IoT technology. For instance, bluetooth beacons and RFID sensors allow manufacturers to see granular data such as how fast a product moved once it hit the shelves, or a retail store can quickly determine what shipping box a certain product is in. Since some of the biggest inefficiencies in the supply chain industry are a result of lack of visibility, this trend is starting (albeit slowly) to head our way. Produce shippers are already reaping the benefits. Through IoT technology, early adopters are able to monitor the temperature and humidity levels of the refrigerated trucks moving their product, greatly reducing the traditional 30% of shipped produce that never makes it to the table. Talk about cool beans!

Embracing The Future

The value of AI is already evident in many areas of supply chain and logistics. But in the end, it’s not as scary as people make it out to be. Robots taking over, they’re taking on; taking on tasks that help us run operations more efficiently, that allow us to focus on other ways to improve business and relationships.

AI’s prevalence in all industries is rapidly accelerating whether we are ready for it or not. Simply put, those who refuse to embrace new technology run the risk of losing any competitive edge over those willing to embrace new ways to increase efficiencies and earnings.

Hasta la vista, baby.

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