“The Future of Supply Chains”
Communications of the ACM, July 2021, Vol. 64 No. 7, Pages 19-21
By Paul Marks
“Until regulators stop butting heads, drone delivery rollout likely will continue to lag well behind ground robots in the autonomous delivery stakes.”
Today’s supply chains are labor-intensive and expensive to run. A number of autonomous systems that reduce the human factor are about to change all that.
What do the sidewalks around us, the airspace above us, interstate freeways, and deep ocean shipping lanes have in common? The answer is that they are all places where developers of autonomous technology are trying to revolutionize the economics of supply chains. The plan is to use robotic technology to deliver anything from packages to take-out food, groceries, or bulk freight in ways that can reduce the logistics industry’s dependence on that most expensive of supply chain costs: human labor. if the use of electric drivetrains can cut carbon emissions too, so much the better.
currently, van-based delivery over the last mile to homes may comprise as much as 40% of the overall transportation cost, even if a package delivered in Europe or the U.S., say, originated in Asia. This final stretch, also known as the “last mile,” has long been an early target for roboticists. A number of last-mile robots have moved from early trials into full-scale operations, as wheeled delivery robots now ply city sidewalks, delivering everything from groceries to pizzas; drones deliver food from the clubhouse to golfers on the green, and medical delivery drone services launched before and during the COVID-19 pandemic ferry drugs, tissue samples, coronavirus tests, and medical supplies to end users.
On the roads, makers of emerging breeds of driverless trucks are preparing to begin tests of autonomous, long-haul semi-tractor-trailers that they hope to run on high-volume freight routes between cities, shifting goods from city depot to city depot. At sea, the shipping industry—one of the world’s worst polluters as a result of its use of a filthy, sulphur-rich diesel called bunker fuel—is developing cleaner, electrically-driven, autonomous ships with artificial intelligence (AI) at the helm.
About the Author:
Paul Marks is a technology journalist, writer, and editor based in London, U.K.
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