We don't live in a Blade Runner world just yet, but we're on our way.
Logistics is an old school industry in a lot of ways. You can't do it all on a computer. It requires specific skills as well as physical labor and movement in the real world.
But does it have to be that way? This is the question posed by logistic technology trends that challenge conventional thinking about logistics.
These trends encompass attitudes we have as the result of innovations past, cutting-edge inventions that are just hitting warehouse floors, and visions for a future that is quickly materializing.
The 12 trends below will change the future of logistics. Read on so you don't get left behind.
Logistic Technology Trends: Blink and You'll Miss Them
The purpose of logistics is to get things from one place to another as quickly as possible. If it's speed you're after, the following logistic technology trends have got you covered.
Each of these trends pushes at least one area of the industry to become more efficient.
1. Autonomous Vehicles
Self-driving cars are making headlines, and the general public is paying attention. Autonomous trucks serve that attention-grabbing purpose in the logistics industry. It's only a matter of time until they are widespread.
Since the logistics industry uses so many different types of vehicles, there are many points at which autonomous vehicles could revolutionize the industry.
Autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks could start to penetrate the market by 2030, according to Forbes. And that's not all. Self-driving cars, truck platooning, and autonomous cranes all pose changes to the logistics workforce and the way companies conduct business.
The Economist reports that autonomous cargo vessels are on their way as well. As if all of this weren't spooky enough, they call them "ghost ships."
Famously, Amazon has already implemented drones to deliver packages. They increase the speed at which customers can receive the products they order.
Many things we want are now truly deliverable at the push of a button. Soon, customers will be able to obtain their orders from places like Amazon within 30 minutes. Online shopping is beginning to look more and more like ordering pizza!
Companies who use drones require employees who understand and can deploy the technology effectively. It's not necessarily that we'll all be replaced by robots. It's more that we'll have to communicate with robots to do our jobs.
3. Warehouse Robots
Speaking of robots, nowhere are they more present than on the warehouse floor.
The manual picking process is one of the most costly and time-consuming aspects of running a warehouse. An employee has to walk across the warehouse to retrieve an item to assemble or pack and then walk back. Those minutes add up to valuable hours that many companies see as wasted time.
Robot stock pickers can make the jobs of the humans working in the warehouse much easier.
Unfortunately, there is still a gap between the reliability of a robot stock picker and a human employee. But robots can work up to four times faster than humans, and the reliability gap is closing fast.
4. The Value of Data
It's not just the physical tools of the logistics industry that are changing. Thanks to the implementation of all this new technology, there is a great deal of data available to shippers. And we're not just talking about GPS systems and making truck routes more efficient.
Companies can use the data they gather from customer purchases to make their shipping more efficient. Amazon is currently working on a system of "anticipatory shipping" to get customers the products they want with as close to instant gratification as possible.
Clearly, companies can't read minds (yet!), but one way anticipatory shipping might work is that a drone is sent to an area by zip code or street with certain products on board and then routed to the nearest destination where a customer orders those products. So you may get your new iPhone sooner than you expected if you see a drone hovering on your corner with a bunch of Apple products on board.
5. Deemphasizing Assets
Assets like trucks and warehouses are expensive to maintain. They break down. They require humans to do maintenance and operate them.
But a different kind of logistics company is on the rise, and it couldn't be more different from the proverbial man and a truck model from the last century.
Companies like Zipments and Shyp own no assets. Yet, they still provide services like freight quotes and information on trucking capacity.
And they can provide these services at much lower rates, because they don't incur the cost of maintaining the assets. They work like consultants.
6. E-Brokerage, i.e. Uber-ization
The business model of companies like Shyp is made possible by e-brokerage platforms. Many within the industry refer to this as the "Uber-ization" of trucking.
Asset-less consultant companies need a way to interface with the owners of physical assets (even autonomous assets!). And customers need a way to interface with them both. That's where electronic brokerage platforms come in.
Ideally, these platforms will be much more efficient than their current manual counterparts. On the front end, a customer will get the user-friendly experience of using an app to pick up their freight. On the back end, advanced algorithms can help eliminate the billions of dollar in wasted space and inefficient routes that the industry sees every year.
Blockchain is another tool that can serve as a technological platform for change within the logistics industry rather than a change in physical tools. It can revolutionize contract negotiations and payment processing. And it can keep track of the data from these transactions in ways that improve them even more in the future.
Blockchain is an evolving technology, which is why it is such a good fit for logistics operations. With blockchain as an operating system of sorts, the future of logistics may be more transparent, reliable, and fair for all parties.
8. Augmented Reality
Let's get back to the exciting gadgets.
In addition to the travel, another reason warehouse work is inefficient is that workers do it manually on paper. There are many opportunities for errors in that system.
Thanks to advancements in augmented reality technology, employees now have the option of using wearables to decrease errors in their stock picking. A typical system includes a smart-glasses display, a camera, and a wearable PC. By scanning and using the automated systems to verify stock, the employee reduces their likelihood of interference in the process.
9. Social Responsibility
With great innovation comes great responsibility. Companies are becoming more aware of the need to reduce their carbon footprints, especially since the logistics industry uses a lot of fuel.
But how can they reduce these carbon footprints? For starters, they can use the very technology that's helping them in other areas to monitor their progress and add to their sustainability.
Rather than seeing this social responsibility as a chore, many companies are using it as an opportunity to brand themselves environmentally friendly. They need any edge they can get in an industry that is growing more competitive with each new technological advance.
We hinted at this factor when we talked about Amazon in the section on drones. E-commerce will be one of the biggest drivers in the logistics sector as customers take their purchasing power into their own hands.
There will likely always be a need for hauling big freight, but with the shift to e-commerce, companies may begin to think smaller. How can they deliver directly to customers? Can they use the autonomous vehicles and drone technologies at their disposal to deliver smaller pieces of freight and cut out middlemen?
These are the questions shippers will ask in the future.
11. Apps and New Players on the Scene
The phone has been one of the most undervalued tools in logistics since the industry began. If you want to broker freight, the quickest way has often been to hop on the phone and call the person with the truck.
The app-based companies that are entering the field are changing that. With the right user experience systems, even larger companies may start to prefer interacting via app to telephone calls.
It may be a shame to some, but the increased efficiency is worth it.
12. Expectations of Speed
This is less of a technology than a driver of technology. Simply put, logistics works faster now, and customers expect that.
As customers get used to near-instant gratification, the push to innovate further continues. Increased speed leads to increased expectations. Buckle up.
The Future Is Yours for the Taking
You can prepare yourself for these changes in logistic technology by staying at the forefront of your field. You've already started that by reading this.