Ordering goods online couldn’t be easier. Buyers select a product, add it to their basket, pay and wait for their parcel to arrive. This process can be started and completed within a couple of days and even, in some cases, within a matter of hours thanks to next day and same day deliveries. However, behind the scenes, the logistical task of getting goods to your door is infinitely more complex.
The overriding question in the boardrooms of logistics companies has been: how can we do things faster and more efficiently without compromising on quality of service? The answer is smart machines. Over the last few years logistics companies have increasingly started implementing the use of smart technology, following in the footsteps of other industries such as manufacturing where the use of smart technology is commonplace.
The global logistics robots market size stood at USD 4.70 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach USE 14.95 billion by 2027.Logistics robots market size, share and industry analysis, 2020-2027, Fortune Business Insights
But what will be the impact?
From transportation to fulfilment to end-delivery, let’s take a look at the future of logistics.
- Automated ships and trucksTransporting goods from factories to warehouses and distribution centres is a mammoth logistical task. However, with automated trucks and ships this becomes easier as the use of cameras, lasers and GPS systems facilitate this process.
Working 24/7, autonomous vehicles will always be able to take the quickest, most efficient route, speeding up delivery times. In addition, humans will no longer be physically needed on the road or out at sea but instead will have technical roles overseeing navigation via a remote monitoring system.
- DronesDrones have the potential to enable huge efficiencies in end-delivery logistics, offering greater efficiency and an improved service for customers. Not only can drones potentially deliver goods faster but they could also do so at a fraction of the cost.
A number of companies are at the forefront of this progress:
Airbus Skyway– Airbus has begun shore-to-ship trails in Singapore with its revolutionary parcel delivery drone. Initially started as an experimental project aimed at developing safe unmanned air delivery systems for use in dense urban environments. Proof-of-concept trials were successfully completed in 2019 with a current focus on using Airbus Skyways as a flying lab to continue testing technologies and concepts.
Amazon PrimeAir– Amazon first started testing drones for delivery in 2013 and last year submitted a petition to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for approval to use drones in low population areas to deliver goods to customers in less than 30 minutes. Approval was obtained in August 2020, bringing Amazon one step closer to an autonomous drone delivery service operating around the world.
Although still at testing stage, other companies are also making progress in this area with UPS trialling the Horsefly UAV delivery system and Microsoft, Apple and Uber amongst other companies exploring drone deliveries.
- Self-driving robotsDelivery robots turning up at your door is still a bit of a gimmick but it could soon be an everyday occurrence that is set to transform end-delivery logistics. A number of start-up companies, including Swiss-based Teleretail AG and UK-based Starship Technologies, are already prototyping this new tech with great success.
Controlled and dispensed from a local hub, the technology is much like that used in self-driving cars, including sensors, computer vision systems and GPS systems, which help them navigate city environments. Starship’s robots can currently deliver within a 2-mile radius, taking 5-30 minutes to complete the task.
These robots could have a significant impact, enabling packages to be delivered at a fraction of the cost, and reducing the environmental impact thanks to their efficient, green systems. They also make deliveries safer by eliminating the need for human intervention.
As of August 2020, Starship robots completed 500,000 deliveries, a total that is set to snowball as the service continually launches across more universities in the United States.
- Collaborative robotsCollaborative robots (cobots) have been designed to communicate with, and to operate alongside, humans in the workplace. They provide increased strength, improved data capabilities and more accurate precision that will help to transform a number of industries. In addition, bringing in cobots means warehouse workers no longer have to carry out menial repetitive tasks. This reduces ergonomic injuries and open up more rewarding technical jobs.
The collaborative robots market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.6% from 2020 to 2027 to reach $1.43 billion by 2027Logistics robots market size, share and industry analysis, 2020-2027, Fortune Business Insights
- Automated mobile botsCobots aren’t the only smart machines taking over warehouses and distribution centres. Smart robots equipped with lasers and 360-degree movement are also navigating the floor, making light work of other traditionally manual logistical tasks.
In warehouses around the world, Amazon KIVA system bots have been gliding down aisles, locating goods and taking stacked shelves back to workers for picking, packing and posting for a couple of years now. Similarly, in China’s Alibaba warehouses robots now do 70% of the work and in the UK, robots navigate a futuristic giant chessboard grid for storing and retrieving grocery items at Ocado.
In a world where e-commerce is increasing, these robots are boosting efficiency and reducing costs. Human workers no longer have to collect goods from inventories with millions of items, saving time and labour, as well as reducing errors. The benefits are twofold: for customers it means faster same-day delivery times and for workers it offers a shift in responsibilities.
What does the future look like?
The latest applications of robotic technology are delivering change and benefits on a large scale when it comes to logistics, improving every aspect of the process.
As robots take over more of the supply chain, companies are realising increased efficiencies and cost savings while customers are enjoying a better experience and faster delivery times. The acceleration of robotics in logistics is only set to increase and become more exciting as technological progress continually advances.