In the first study of its kind, Australian researchers have found significant opportunity of drone delivery services. High priority freight and personal transport will benefit from this advancing technology with improved travel times from regions to the cities.
In today’s digital world where humans and technology-powered systems interact in more connected and intelligent ways, enterprises that strive to achieve future growth realise that it is critical to lead with digital innovation to keep up with the expectations of an increasingly discerning end user. Those who don’t move fast enough will be forced out of the market.
Automation and AI capabilities are integrated into new or existing applications to transform human workflows, interactions and provide them with real-time decision support. They will provide natural extensions of tools already deployed in the customers’ work environments to create a more dynamic ecosystem focused on improving worker productivity, driving more efficiencies and developing safer environments.
Whilst adoption of AI and automation technologies is steadily increasing globally, we are seeing that enterprises are also leveraging on augmentation technologies in complement. Organisations are harnessing mobile technologies to empower their frontline workers with tools and data that enable them to become more productive and be able to make real-time decisions at the edge of the enterprise. This frees workers from repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on tasks that bring greater impact on delivering better customer service.
This is especially important in markets faced with fast-rising labour costs or rapidly shrinking workforces. Japan, for example, faces both high labour cost and an ageing population, and enterprises and workers have embraced automation and augmentation technologies without fear of robots replacing humans at work.
Supply chain fulfilment transactions are growing exponentially for both B2B and B2C engagements. The exponential growth will drive the customers who are deploying at scale to seek advanced automation. When combined with increased edge power, machine learning (ML) and AI-driven tools, it will augment the human workforce for enhanced productivity.
Inventory management will leverage automation and AI to improve worker productivity and accuracy, and identify stockouts, assigning worker tasks and ordering products. Drones are being utilised to complete cycle counts in warehouses. Moving the process of data capture into the air provides on-demand checks and avoids the additional time and expenses spent on having employees access difficult to reach locations within the warehouse.
Moving material around efficiently and accurately enables manufacturers and distributors to reduce costs, improve productivity and meet demanding customer schedules. In the product packaging phase, robots are using machine vision, sensors and ML to mimic human capabilities (including touch). In addition, customer service can be augmented via automation (robots) and AI solutions, both online or in-store.
In terms of product delivery, drones and robots are used to cross difficult terrain and carry larger objects. Amazon and UPS are using delivery drones to reach customers in remote locations. An integrated service with autonomous vehicles and robots or drones demonstrates a more collaborative way of leveraging automation.
Automation driven by AI has empowered robotic-based capabilities and data management as well, creating a collaborative world where more natural, effective interaction happens among autonomous things or between humans and machines. Advanced automation brings more intelligence to businesses and delivers a performance edge in a data-rich environment.
Tom Christodoulou is the sales director of Zebra Technologies ANZ.
Boeing and SparkCognition will launch SkyGrid, a new company that will enable the future of urban aerial mobility. SkyGrid will develop a software platform to ensure the safe, secure integration of autonomous cargo and passenger air vehicles in the global airspace.
Using blockchain technology, AI-enabled dynamic traffic routing, data analytics and cybersecurity features, SkyGrid’s platform will go beyond unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) traffic management (UTM). The platform will enable SkyGrid customers to safely perform a broad range of missions and services using UAS, including package delivery, industrial inspections and emergency assistance.
“The Boeing and SparkCognition partnership is unmatched in industry today,” said vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt Steve Nordlund. “SkyGrid is building the digital infrastructure that will make safe, seamless commercial and personal transport possible for billions of people around the world.”
“SkyGrid merges expertise in AI, blockchain, security and aviation to deliver breakthrough technological advancements for the rapidly-growing urban aerial mobility industry,” said Amir Husain, who will serve as CEO of SkyGrid in addition to his role as founder and CEO of SparkCognition. “By offering scalable and robust capabilities in a single, integrated framework, SkyGrid will make large-scale air vehicle applications more practical and accessible.”
After almost two years of development, the completely automatic warehouse inventory system using drones, by GEODIS and Delta Drone, will be operational at the end of 2018.
More than 1,000 flight hours in prototype mode across three pilot warehouses were required to arrive at this product, which allows companies to perform completely automatic warehouse inventories without interrupting their usual operations or requiring any human intervention. The main advantages are the productivity gains generated by performing the inventories outside warehouse operating hours, greater safety at work for the site’s employees, who no longer have to carry out this tedious and sometimes risky task, and a greater reliability of the inventory.
In the prototyping phase, multiple tests were carried out in real operating conditions in order to meet the specific constraints of warehouses, such as low light or the impact that the plastic film covering pallets has on image capturing, which required special adaptations to the cameras embedded in the drones.
This phase ended in 2017 with the development of a complete ‘plug and play’ system that can be easily moved from one warehouse to another without requiring that any prior changes be made to the warehouse. It also adapts to all types of warehouse management systems (WMS).
Based on these positive results, GEODIS and Delta Drone are now working on producing a system that can be manufactured, focusing their attention on the solution’s design and the final choice of the best components. The aim is to move to the industrial production stage at the end of the year. Initially, GEODIS will be the exclusive user of this product in its own warehouses.
The system designed by the GEODIS and Delta Drone engineering teams is unique. It combines a ground-based robot equipped with a battery that provides the energy needed to navigate a warehouse and allows freedom from autonomy constraints, and a quadcopter drone equipped with four high-definition cameras. This set, equipped with indoor geolocation technology, operates autonomously during the hours the site is closed. From an IT point of view, the set-up enables the counting and reporting of data in real time, the processing of data, and its restitution into the warehouse’s information system. The tests conducted during this initial development phase show that the system enables inventory to be managed reliably with rates close to 100%.
Australian Mexican food chain Guzman y Gomez and pharmacy chain Chemist Warehouse have partnered with Project Wing, a team developing drone delivery technology in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales.
Both retailers will be taking part in Project Wings’ trials, receiving orders from testers using the drone team’s smartphone applications. Project Wing will then dispatch drones to the retailer’s location and, once loaded with the goods, deliver the orders to the testers’ residences.
On the company’s blog, Project Wing Co-Lead James Ryan Burgess explained, “Our partners Guzman y Gomez and Chemist Warehouse will teach us what we need to do to ensure that orders are channelled to their staff smoothly and that they can easily load goods onto our delivery drones.
“In the case of Guzman y Gomez, who is our first delivery partner for this trial, we’ll need to make sure our technology fits in smoothly into their kitchen operations, as their staff have to juggle many orders at once to ensure that every customer is served fresh, hot food in a timely fashion. We want to learn how much notice to give them for a drone’s arrival so that they can cook, pack, and load it in one well-timed workflow.”
He noted that through the collaboration with Chemist Warehouse, Project Wing hopes to confirm its system is able to support merchants with a wide variety of products. “As part of this test, [Chemist Warehouse is] offering nearly 100 products across categories like vitamins, dental care, sun care, and over-the-counter medicines,” Burgess said. “By practicing how we pack items of very different shapes and sizes into our fixed-sized package, we’ll learn how to optimize how many items we’re able to deliver per flight.
“The information we gather from both of these test partners will help us build a system so that merchants of all kinds can focus on what they’re good at – like making food or helping people feel healthier – rather than being distracted by complex delivery logistics.”
By 2021, more than a billion parcels will be sent in Australia per year, according to the second annual Parcel Shipping Index from global technology company Pitney Bowes. The Index measures volume and spend for business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), consumer-to-business and consumer consigned shipments in 13 major markets including Australia, Germany, China, the UK and the US.
This year’s Index projects that the Australian parcel market will grow 9 to 12 per cent from 2017 to 2021 (CAGR), with more than a billion parcels sent per year in Australia by 2021.
It also shows that Australia experienced double-digit growth in parcel volume from 2015 to 2016, year on year, increasing by 13 per cent to 794 million.
The Index found that parcel spend in Australia grew by four per cent to reach $9 billion in 2016 – but while parcel volume and spend are rising, start-ups are disrupting the parcel market, increasing competition and driving down revenue per parcel – with an eight per cent yield per parcel drop attributed to the entrance of more non-traditional carriers into the market.
“The Australian parcel landscape is in the midst of great growth and disruption,” said Stephen Darracott, Country Manager and Director, Pitney Bowes ANZ. “We anticipate even more parcel volume growth with the e-commerce revolution taking hold in Australia. Individuals will have more choice about delivery times and service options over the next year. Meanwhile, businesses should be undergoing a digital transformation of their mailing and shipping workflow to focus on more efficiency and inbound and outbound tracking capabilities.”
On average, the other 12 major markets studied have grown 4.3 per cent annually since 2012 and are projected to grow 4.5 per cent to 5.4 per cent annually through 2021.
“The continued rise of e-commerce globally is keeping the parcel shipping market strong through 2021 as consumers are increasingly looking to online shopping for convenience, price and availability of products from around the world,” said Lila Snyder, Executive Vice President and President – Global E-commerce, Pitney Bowes. “As consumer expectations continue to rise, shipping technology and service providers will need to help retailers and marketplaces meet those demands.”
Globally, the Parcel Shipping Index predicted rapid growth and last-mile delivery challenges will drive innovation across markets, and the rise of parcel lockers and new delivery models like crowd-shipping, on-demand delivery services, evening and weekend delivery and drones.
Global information technology firm Unisys predicts that the future growth of the airfreight industry and its ability to capitalise of the e-commerce market will be heavily impacted by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and voice-enabled artificial intelligence (AI) smart devices and systems, warehouse drones and strategic alliances between airlines and distributors.
“As the air cargo industry undergoes growth and transformation, driven by rapidly increasing capacity supply on passenger flights, and the shift to business-to-consumer small parcel shipments as a result of e-commerce, cargo operators will be forced to embrace such innovation to be more efficient, nimble and proactive in an increasingly competitive and price conscious market,” the company said in a statement.
Venkatesh Pazhyanur, Senior Industry Director of Freight Solutions at Unisys, noted that the freight industry as a whole must make an effort to keep up with evolving technologies.
“The cargo industry needs to embrace disruptive technologies from the consumer world, including Internet of Things, digital assistants and drones, to increase efficiency and meet customer expectation for greater transparency throughout the supply chain,” said Pazhyanur.
The company added that the Asia-Pacific air cargo industry is experiencing growth and transformation driven by rapidly increasing capacity supply on passenger flights, and the shift to business-to-consumer small parcel shipments as a result of e-commerce. This growing passenger demand will increase the number of passenger flights and add to cargo capacity supply, it added.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the number of people travelling by air globally will almost double between 2016 and 2035, with the greatest growth in Asia Pacific. At the same time, the rising popularity of e-commerce is changing the nature of cargo shipments, incrementally increasing the number of small parcels – predicted by management consultancy McKinsey & Company to grow five per cent annually in mature markets and 17 per cent annually in China.
“At Unisys we predict these market pressures will bring innovation in three areas in the cargo supply chain: smart warehouses will become even smarter, drones will finally take off in the cargo supply chain – but inside the warehouse, and new alliances between airlines and global distributors will enable longer term capacity management,” added Pazhyanur. “Much of the underlying technologies are already being used in other sectors – including the consumer world. But now, more than ever, cargo operators will be forced to embrace such innovation to be more efficient, nimble and proactive in an increasingly competitive and price conscious market.”
If we are to believe the headlines, then driverless trucks and drones are about to revolutionise delivery transport. But how close are these developments, really?
These developments will likely be academic for years to come. There is more value in looking at what we can do now to improve efficiency with technology and processes which are already available.
Don’t get me wrong – technology will eventually have a huge impact and bring improvements. But we need to bring a healthy scepticism to the big claims currently being made.
Consider an extraordinary recent claim from a Stanford economist predicting petrol vehicles will vanish within eight years – what are we to make of such bold predictions, aside from its click-bait headline? The oil industry is a global behemoth, and internal combustion vehicles currently have a massive edge on power, distance, reliability and price point. Something incredible will need to happen to see all internal combustion engines replaced by electric vehicles with competitive prices and performance in a mere eight years.
Other headlines suggest we soon won’t need drivers at all. I think there needs to be an honest, mature conversation about self-driving vehicles.
The supposed economic gains raise as many questions as answers. We don’t know what the price point for purchasing a self-driving vehicle will be. We don’t know how the regulators will deal with them, don’t know the running costs (though there are claims they will cut down on fuel costs), and don’t know how insurers will view them.
The human factor is the big question. The driver is an expensive part of delivery transport, alongside fuel. If these vehicles require ‘babysitters’ who may be called upon to take control, then they need to be qualified drivers, with the appropriate licences and the appropriate pay levels. If a human is required to be present in a driverless vehicle, how deep will the cost savings be?
The most obvious use for self-driving vehicles is long-haul freight. There have been some fascinating moves, including a self-driving truck delivering Budweiser in the USA. Uber Technologies Inc. and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV collaborated to have an 18-wheeler travel 180 miles with a driver present in the sleeper cab, to make the first commercial delivery using the technology. Volvo also demonstrated a self-driving truck last year, on a short journey in a Swedish underground mine.
Before we get too excited about the self-driving capabilities, Gartner offers an interesting statistic – the IT research house predicts less than one per cent of long-haul freight will be carried by driverless trucks by 2021. This is a long-term game.
While we must monitor these developments, will there be any benefit in being an early adopter? There are many examples in business where it has paid to be conservative, let the early adopters make the early mistakes, and wait until prices come down. These vehicles may require a huge investment and still require somebody on board. We don’t even know what the regulators will do with this technology, though it’s bound to become political.
Safety concerns and potential widespread job losses will fuel much debate and we can expect heavy regulatory involvement.
Transport is statistically one of the most dangerous industries in Australia and worldwide – so we all have to work harder on safety. Self-driving vehicles could potentially make big in-roads into safety, but this seems most plausible on long haul, interstate routes, which are more predictable.
Self-driving vehicles in built-up, metro areas is another thing. Will people, and therefore governments, ever accept driverless semi-trailers or B-doubles in built-up areas?
Early research suggests widespread distrust of self-driving vehicles. A US survey of over 2,000 people found over 75 per cent thought they would never own a self-driving car. Everybody knows how technology can ‘crash’, how it can be hacked and corrupted. Those promoting self-driving vehicles need to persuade the public and the politicians they are safe.
Consider it this way: would you put your child in a self-driving car, on their own, without any other human supervision, for them to be driven to school?
Any incident involving a self-driving vehicle anywhere in the world will be headline news. The potential for PR disaster is huge. Yet we’ve lived with human error for a long time. We may not like it, but we understand it. Will people ever be so understanding of computer error?
Drones are another fascinating development, with Amazon investing in the technology. Drones have huge potential for parcel delivery, but don’t do away with your delivery fleets just yet.
The commercial application of drones faces considerable hurdles around airspace and public safety. Some of these drones weigh 25kg – add payload, and that’s a considerable weight to fly over built-up areas. If drones can achieve air clearance and cover off all safety problems, some serious number crunching will need to ascertain whether several drones controlled by people are more cost-efficient than a driver who may carry dozens of parcels in a van.
In my 30+ years in transport I’ve seen many innovations, which should have made bigger impact on efficiency: mobile communications, telematics, vehicle and parcel monitoring, and insourcing. Yet transport remains a top-five cost of doing business, and a continual source of angst in the supply chain.
Many companies could revolutionise their transport right now. Without any massive investment in technology or personnel, most transport divisions could cut their running costs by 10–15 per cent – just by being smarter in how they use their technology and personnel.
There needs to be more focus on what we’ve got. Properly utilising existing technology would be a huge step forward for many organisations.
Doing so would not just deliver immediate benefits, it provides clear thinking on these breakthrough technologies when they finally do become available – any organisation which clearly understands its costs and efficiencies is bound to make the best decisions on future investments.
Walter Scremin is General Manager of Ontime Delivery Solutions.
Robotics will cause the most disruption in the supply chain in the next five years, according to a study carried out by the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville’s Global Supply Chain Institute, as first reported by Modern Materials Handling.
The study looked at the anticipated impact of five technologies on the supply chain on the next five years: 3D printing, driverless vehicles, drones, robotics and wearable technology, assessing the current and potential use of these technologies as well as the benefits and barriers to using them.
“Robotics have been around for more than 50 years, but they have become dramatically more dynamic in the last five,” said Paul Dittmann, Executive Director of the Global Supply Chain Institute and the paper’s author. “They are no longer stationary, blind, expensive and unintelligent but can work alongside people and learn as jobs change.”
3D printing was deemed to be the least viable technology in the short term, though the study acknowledged that it has the potential to eliminate the supply chain completely if costs can be reduced and usable materials expanded.
“We are at a turning point in the industry where disruptive innovation is required to meet the exponentially growing customer expectations,” said Danny Halim, Vice President – Distribution and 3PL Strategies at JDA Software, one of the sponsors of the white paper.
A fixed-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) has flown over 150 kilometres in Texas to deliver a package, setting a record for long-distance drone delivery.
Nevada UAS Consortium – Team Roadrunner – arranged the flight on 5 May 2017. Launched from a central Texas urban location, the UAV followed a pre-planned route autonomously, though it was supported by visual observers located across the flight route equipped with enhanced radios and cell phone communications, enabling the UAV to be flown using a cellular communications link until it successfully landed and delivered its package in Austin, Texas.
Team Roadrunner consisted of the Nevada UAS Test Site (Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems), Volans-i UAS, Latitude UAS, AUV Flight Services, and the ground and mobile visual observer support from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) Worldwide campuses.
“This was the most challenging, logistically-intensive, and longest package delivery demonstration recorded to date using cellular technology in the NAS, and allowed us the opportunity to demonstrate innovative capability – a demonstration necessity for the UAS industry,” said Dr Chris Walach, Director of the Nevada UAS Test Site and Adjunct Assistant Professor, College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide.
“Drone package delivery in an urban and remote environment is the wave of the future, and Nevada is leading and helping to grow this major commercial endeavour,” he added. “These package delivery milestones prove that new UAS technology enables the safe integration of UAS into the NAS for long-distance and urban package deliveries.”
Steve Hill, Executive Director of the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development, added, “Creating a safe and thriving drone industry is an incredible challenge, especially when you couple that with drone package delivery. The record-breaking success of Team Roadrunner’s aerial package delivery mission proves that diligent testing in complex conditions will lead to drone delivery becoming reality.”