Technology has already transformed the transportation of goods significantly over the past twenty years. GPS alone has revolutionized the industry. From mapping routes to location tracking to real-time delivery updates, technology has radically altered the shipping landscape.
Despite all that, we’re still just scratching the surface.
There are technologies on the horizon that could impact transportation as much as, and possibly more than, GPS and mobile combined.
Here are seven ways that technology could transform the shipping and freight industry… again.
1. Self-Driving Trucks
Self-driving cars might be the latest craze these days, but just think what that same technology could do for trucking.
A self-driving truck could go from New York to Los Angeles without a single overnight stop. How’s that for efficiency? Autonomous vehicles achieve better fuel economies, too, because their speed is more regulated.
As for the human factor, taking the driver out of the equation would create a significant expense reduction – both in wages and insurance. On the other hand, some companies might want to keep their drivers to monitor the trucks, load and unload them, and take over in challenging situations, or in the event of system failure. Even then, expenses will drop as the time it takes to get from point A to point B shortens.
Tomorrow’s trucking jobs might even require more networking and computer engineering skills than actual driving experience.
2. Intelligent Highways
Vehicles aren’t the only ones getting a technology upgrade. The roads themselves could be changing in the near future.
Think of intelligent highways as freeways for autonomous vehicles. Except instead of each car, truck, or bus monitoring everything around it, and responding individually, the highway system itself takes over and controls everything on it.
According to Robotics Tomorrow, “Automated highway systems combine magnetic sensors, computers, digital radio, forward-looking sensors, video cameras, and display technologies. Magnetic sensors would be imbedded along the highway lanes. Magnetometers under the car's bumpers would sense the magnets and automatically keep the cars in the center of the lane.”
Traffic would be controlled by networked computer stations placed at regular intervals, which would interact with the autonomous control systems built into the vehicles. This type of coordinated logistics could provide even more efficiencies than a single autonomous vehicle driving alone.
Is it feasible? The control technologies already exist, developed for the aviation and space industries. A test was even run on Interstate 15 in San Diego, CA all the way back in 1997. Now that in-vehicle systems are finally catching up to that prototype, we might see new intelligent highway systems soon.
3. Owning the Last Mile
Freight transport is what connects manufacturers to distributors to retailers. Trucks, trains, planes, and ships are all commonly used to that effect. Products flow between those entities in a vast web of transportation hubs.
But the one thing they don’t cover is getting a product into the hands of the actual end-user. This is known as the “last mile” in the delivery of a product to the customer. For that, there are two existing options:
- Retail stores and locations
- Postal services such as USPS, FedEx, and UPS
Technology is on the verge of changing all that.
Self-Driving Vans. The same autonomous driving technologies we discussed earlier could solve the last mile problem, too. Imagine a distribution center with a fleet of self-driving vans – or even minicars – dispatching products out to residential addresses.
Drones. In the same way, aerial drones can deliver smaller items even more efficiently than a self-drivin.g vehicle could. The technology already exists to do it and some pilot programs have been tested. The major obstacle right now is the FAA needing some way to regulate drone usage before swarms of them hit the skies.
4. Uber Freight
One vision sees shipping transformed in the same way Uber overhauled the taxi industry. According to Dan Goodwell of DG&A Consulting, an Uber-style freight system is where “sophisticated software-based freight matching services link available capacity with demand and find the right truck to move goods to the customer.”
This means you could outsource your entire shipping operation to a logistics service provider, which in turn utilizes on-demand trucking services. While this might not be as efficient as some of the other options envisioned here, it provides a more flexible and scalable approach for small companies.
5. Artificial Intelligence
Exactly how artificial intelligence will transform the transportation industry remains to be seen. Early uses are finding the benefits of intelligent routing: allowing companies to plan further out with greater degrees of accuracy. In the container industry, for example, AI promises to ensure just-in-time transits and the availability of equipment when needed.
Online giant eBay purchased AI software last year, and one of the main reasons CEO Devin Wenig gave for the investment was to “help improve shipping and delivery times.”
AI will ultimately touch on just about every facet of every industry. In transportation, the most likely area of impact will be in finding optimal solutions that coordinate all aspect of your logistics operations.
6. Dedicated Freight Lines
If you’re just looking at getting from a dedicated point A to a dedicated point B, there are some fascinating new technologies in the works.
Raised rail systems, maglev trains, and superconducting vacuum tubes are just a few of the projects currently in R&D. What happens when a company like WalMart builds dedicated express freightways like these between its distribution centers and stores? It would be a huge investment, but what would the payoff be? Time will tell.
7. 3D Printing
As our final entry into the future of shipping, what about a technology that eliminates the need for shipping at all?
Gizmodo referred to 3D printing as “the closest we’ve come to teleportation.” Every day, more and more companies are finding innovative uses for this radical new technology. And yet, the 3D printing industry is still in the early days of its infancy.
But will there even be a need in the future to ship products all the way from a factory in China to a retail store in Scranton, PA? What if that retail store can throw some materials into a 3D printer and build it right there, on the spot? What if stores didn’t even need to carry inventory, but could just print products on demand?
If you’ve ever seen Star Trek, you’re probably thinking about those nifty replicators right now. I can’t imagine much need for trucking services when there’s a replicator in every shop and home, can you? Of course, we’re nowhere near that level of sophistication yet, but…
And what if you updated your business with DecisionPoint’s modern, state of the art Mobile Merchandising, Sales, and Delivery solution? It might not be a replicator or a fleet of self-driving trucks, but why wait for the future? Envision the impact it could have on your business right now. Contact us today to learn more.