The transportation and logistics industry has traditionally been defined by trucks and infrastructure, but over the past several years technology has begun to change that. The use of mobile computers, GPS solutions, electronic tolling, and electronic vehicle logs have revolutionized logistics. Other new technologies are poised to have just as big an impact, and the future of logistics will be marked by new advancements. It’s important for transportation companies to stay up-to-speed with these developments, even those that may be a few years away from widespread adoption.
While there are a number of new technologies that will affect the transportation and logistics industry, here are some critical ones to keep on your radar:
Telematics and Fleet Management
Logistics companies have been using GPS systems to track the location of their trucks for years. What has changed is the number of new features and functions that GPS-based fleet management systems now offer. In addition to seeing truck locations, managers can now set up geofences to enable alerts when a truck is nearing its destination (or has veered far out of its service area), optimize routes using real-time traffic data, improve vehicle utilization, and automatically track driver hours and fuel tax reporting information.
The telematics functions of these system also make it possible to track vehicle maintenance needs (scheduling serviced based on miles driven), and generate alerts if the engine generates a trouble code. This can help avoid breakdowns and extend the life of the vehicle. Finally, companies can track speeding, harsh braking/acceleration, excessive idling and other conditions that will reduce fuel consumption, save costs, and improve safety. In addition, some insurance companies now offer discounts for fleet operators that use these solutions.
The Internet of Things (IoT)
The IoT involves using sensors and network communications to connect machines to the Internet. This makes it possible to monitor equipment, remotely control devices (like printers or home security systems), and receive alerts when machines need repaired or serviced. IoT is an extension of the types of telematics information that has already been provided. This can start further up-stream in the ordering, manufacturing and warehousing chain. Smart machines will broadcast their needs for new parts or consumables before running out. With clearer demand signals, the supply chain will have to be more responsive.
During transport, trucks could monitor temperature, vibration and other elements that affect the condition of the load. Not only will information about the truck and environment be captured, but IoT monitors can stay with a shipment across multiple international transportation methods, from shipping to truck to rail to steamship to yard storage to rail to truck to delivery. In this way, logistics companies could provide better insight for shippers and receivers — this type of data is critical for cold chain or produce applications.
The availability of low-cost sensors and Bluetooth wireless technology will make it easier to add trucks to this burgeoning online network of supply chain data, providing last-mile visibility that was previously unattainable.
Drone Delivery and Driverless Cars
Amazon made a big splash when it announced it planned to use unmanned flying drones to deliver products to customers. While the idea of flying robots dropping packages from the sky sounds pretty cool, practical considerations (cost, safety, regulations, etc.) will likely keep deliver operations grounded for several more years.
Driverless vehicles, on the other hand, are an advancement that may affect the logistics and transportation industry sooner rather than later. Several companies have already tested driverless cars on the open road (including Google), and there are a number of test facilities in the U.S. where the technology is being further developed. Several auto manufactures have also introduced semi-autonomous driving capabilities in their vehicles (Tesla is a prime example). And Uber’s Otto division is already testing driverless trucks for logistics and delivery applications. By eliminating the need for a driver, logistics companies could address the driver shortage and greatly improve safety by reducing or eliminating the possibility of driver fatigue.
Even if a driver has to still be inside an autonomous truck (which is the case under current law), they could switch the vehicle to autonomous and mode and theoretically rest while the truck keeps on moving. There are plenty of regulatory and insurance issues to sort through, in addition to great leaps in reliability that would be required of the technology. But the transportation and logistics industry should start giving this technology a hard look.
Cloud-Based Computing and Business Analytics
Often, people think of technology as strictly hardware, gadgets, etc. However, the significant increase in capabilities and enhancements in architecture for cloud-based computing and business analytics also dramatically affects the transportation industry. For years, telematics and RFID and other technologies provided plenty of data that could be used, but companies rarely were able to capture and organize that data, let alone harness the value of analytics. The sophistication of software and data architectures now allow all the data to be effectively controlled and manipulated to generate not only detail status of activity and process flow, but predictive and suggestive advice to proactively improve operations and stop problems before they occur.
Then, providing operational alerts and management advice in a timely fashion to users’ mobile devices keeps them productively active and in the field instead of tied to a spreadsheet or mountains of paper printouts, wondering “What does it all mean?”
The transportation and logistics industry should prepare to embrace these changes and innovations. Doing so will improve their competitive position and enable them to meet the future needs and demands of their customers.