The Inevitable Introduction of Self-Driving Trucks into the Supply Chain

Robert Brice
Thu, Jan 21, 2016
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The introduction of self-driving cars isn't slowing down.

Companies already use advanced robotics to manufacture products and facilitate warehouse management procedures, but will intelligent machines begin delivering materials and merchandise for supply chain operations? The Atlantic suggested businesses using self-driving trucks in regular transportation practices is not a matter of if, but when.

Numerous industry reports indicate the future of U.S. transportation - both public and commercial - is set to drastically change over the next couple of decades. Highways and local roads could become packed with vehicles navigated by computer systems. This isn't some far-fetched sci-fi prediction, as some companies have already implemented self-driving vehicles into normal procedures and all businesses need to investigate the possibilities the technology could have on supply chain logistics management.

Where the Technology Currently Stands
Numerous innovative companies work diligently on finding the best way to create vehicles that can safely move through traffic without the assistance of a human driver. Supply Chain 24/7 said Google created cars that have driven more than 100,000 miles on their own as of 2015. Some states allow the vehicles on their roads, and they demonstrate improved performance on a regular basis.

Certain companies use driverless trucks, but so far mostly in remote areas where they are unlikely to interact with other vehicles. Forbes reported mines in Chile cart materials between locations with self-driving trucks. A mining organization in Rio Tinto, Australia launched an automated freight train designed to travel further than similar vehicles ever have.

Organizations have utilized automation in train shipping for several decades. Trains are easier to guide than cars because of their pre-determined tracks. Business also use flying shipping options like remote drones to offer human-free delivery machines that won't have to navigate around other vehicles.

Obstacles to Full-Blown Deployment
It's ironic safety is the primary concern when it comes to implementation of driverless vehicles on roadways, seeing as a major goal of the technology is to save lives. Traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. By introducing a vehicle that won't fall victim to human errors, automakers hope to prevent crashes through intelligent risk analysis and consistent performance.

Still, people aren't comfortable with the idea of looking over and seeing an empty driver's seat in the next lane. Many regions want better regulations dictating the use of the technology. Wired magazine said The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to create definitive rules for self-driving vehicles. The states that allow the cars and trucks have inconsistent laws. Some states only currently permit testing, while Florida doesn't have any regulations at all.

Companies are used to tailoring operations to government oversight. It's possible businesses will have to alter their application of driverless trucks as they transport products and supplies across different states. Industries may also have to develop best practices before government regulators. A company may create its own rules for use based on safety concerns and public relations.

If a business uses smart vehicles, it will need automated data collection solutions in place to monitor progress of delivery routes. While the technology is specifically designed to avoid accidents, companies will need data visibility to watch for problems or distribution speeds. Warehouses will also need trucks that know how to dock and navigate particular business spaces.

Advantages of Driverless Trucks in the Supply Chain
Supply Management detailed several benefits companies can achieve through the implementation of self driving trucks in the supply chain. Most industries currently suffer from driver shortage due to the job's long hours and travel demands. Organizations can replenish their operations through a robotic workforce and save money on payroll.

Self-driving trucks can operate at any hour. They don't need to stop to rest or eat. The advanced machine learning capabilities should report delays or other problems. The sensors utilized by intelligent vehicles should capture more information than a human driver could report about traffic, speeds and vehicle performance. If a company does have an effective automated data collection solution, it can gain visibility of performance to plan optimal routes.

Automated vehicles will stick to best paths every single time. Consistent performance and detailed data collection are just a few of the features that demonstrate self-driving trucks potential as a dependable supply chain asset.

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