Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick described plans to “get rid of the dude in the car” in 2014, when the ride-sharing company disclosed it was developing driverless fleets. But Kalanick’s vision of eliminating human drivers has much larger ramifications than just the idea of removing human drivers from Uber cars to save money. Instead, supply chain logistics is on the dawn of a not-so-distant era, as robotics and artificial intelligence replace humans for the delivery and transport of goods across the supply chain.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Autonomous shipping is not a moonshot. Self-piloting vehicles and drones are about to emerge beyond the prototype stage, and for some applications, only need the greenlight from regulatory bodies before commercial rollout begins. Here are three ways driverless trucks, pilotless ships, and drones are expected to have radical effects on the supply chain in the very near future.
Robot truck drivers take to the open roads
Driverless truck deliveries are expected to begin in the near future, but the jury remains out when regulatory bodies in the U.S., Asia, and Europe will make them legal to operate commercially. Like in the car industry, completely driverless trucks are categorized by the SAE International standard body as Level 4, meaning they pilot themselves from point A to B with no intervention from a human driver. Conversely, Level 3 cars and trucks are defined as vehicles that can self-pilot themselves, but the driver must be present and able to take back the wheel within a certain amount of time when prompted.
The consensus among OEMS and suppliers is that fleets will begin to deploy Level 4 commercial trucks after three years from now. Backlash by concerned and vocalized union representatives about the potential for machines to take truckers’ jobs has likely influenced their relative conservative estimate about driverless trucks’ rollout.
Some analysts and observers, however, are more bullish about the rollout schedule of commercial trucks, especially versus that of cars. This is because it is simpler to develop AI-controlled vehicles for highway driving conditions, especially for long distances, compared to city driving, replete with stoplights, turn signals, jaywalking pedestrians, bikes darting through traffic, and other urban driving hazards.
According to Richard Bishop, president of Bishop Consulting, trucks with Level 4 self-driving capabilities could see commercial rollout within two years.
“The technology to accomplish Level 4 is rapidly maturing for deployments in highly constrained environments, such as short repetitive runs between a rail yard and a truck fleet terminal on roads with minimal personal vehicle traffic,” Bishop told EBN. “But the business case driving investment in truck automation startups is highway ‘exit to exit’ driverless, with transfer yards to allow these vehicles to hand off their trailers to human driven trucks for last-mile delivery. These ops would likely be constrained to remote stretches of highway, operating at times when regular traffic is minimal.”