Logistics Sector to be Revolutionized by Automated Vehicles

truck.jpgAccording to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, self-driving vehicles have been defined as “vehicles in which operation occurs without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking”. 

The concept of automated vehicles may conjure up futuristic ‘Jetsons-esque’ images of robotized travel.  Technological advancements, however - particularly within the last few years, confirms this ‘future’ is fast becoming not so distant.  For many, the initial phases of computerized vehicle capabilities are limited, but this technology has eclipsed far beyond self-parking cars.  Industry giant and leader in Logistics and Transportation, DHL Global, is deeply invested in understanding and preparing for self-driving vehicle technology.  Developing the ‘Self-Driving Vehicles in Logistics’, DHL Global investigates the implications on the logistics sector as we prepare to enter an era of automated vehicles.  Their research indicates that ‘some of the world’s leading automotive and technology companies are already showcasing first prototypes and discussing the advent of “the next automotive revolution”’. 

A few key benefits from autonomous driving were identified in the report:

  • Improved Safety – DHL’s research cites that up to 90% of road traffic accidents are caused by the driver. Because our culture has become so governed by smart phone technology and social media, the incidence of collisions as a result of distracted driving has become epidemic.  Self-driving vehicles would have the capacity for instantaneous response to varying traffic and weather conditions, curtailing   human negligence.
  • Greater comfort – Self-driving vehicles would transform the task of driving into a relaxing experience, where drivers become passengers.  Capitalizing on this platform, the elderly, underage, people with physical disabilities, and even the intoxicated would be afforded a safe, worry-free solution for transportation.
  • Higher Efficiency – expediting traffic flows by allowing freight trucks to travel 24/7 without requiring driver rest time.

The report cites a staggering statistic that autonomous driving could lower costs for freight by as much as 40% per kilometre.

The impact automated vehicles will have on the transportation and logistics sector will be revolutionary.  DHL believes “there is a strong case for suggesting that the logistics industry will adopt self-driving vehicles much faster than most other industries.”  And, considering our current economic climate, the ushering in of AV technology will realize much needed cost savings opportunities.  It is believed that AV technology will most likely be implemented in secure, private areas like warehouses and open-air sites. 

According to the report, the core areas that self-driving technology will impact the Transportation and Logistics sectors are:

  • Warehousing Operations - incredible efficiencies would be realized via technologies like autonomous loading, auto pallet movers, and assisted order picking.
  • Line Haul Transportation - Assisted highway trucking would facilitate having a convoy with one live driver in a truck in front, overseeing a convoy of autonomous vehicles behind it (platooning).
  • Last-mile Delivery – the report regards this aspect of transportation to be “the least predictable part of the entire journey” and “the most visionary application of self-driving vehicles in logistics.” DHL indicates that advances in autonomous driving will transform and improve last-mile delivery through technologies such as parcel station loading, shared cars, and self-driving parcels.
  • Liability – drivers are currently held responsible for safe operation of vehicles.  There would be a shift in liability placing the onus on the vehicle manufacturer for constructional defects, manufacturing defects and faulty instructions.

One seemingly obvious impact of this technology would be a decrease in demand for truck drivers.  Conversely, however, there may be an upsurge of opportunities for those employed in the capacity of route optimization and efficiency (ie. logistic planners / third-party logistics providers).  

Despite the importance of understanding how our US counterpart is beginning to integrate AV technology into the mainstream, what does this all this mean for the logistics and transportation sector in Canada?  The CanadianAutomated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE) is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to helping the public and private sectors prepare and plan for the arrival of automated vehicles (AVs).  CAVCOE has identified, however, that Canada has been quite slow to adopt the driverless car revolution; Ontario is the only province allowing autonomous cars to be tested on its roads.  As a result, Canada may be last in line to realize the potential profits of such a lucrative technological advancement.  Chief Technology Officer of CAVCOE, Paul Godsmark, suggests that one of the biggest obstacles for the logistic industry as it begins to adopt AV technology is people’s reluctance to embrace major change.  “Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are essentially a paradigm shift as they change the underlying beliefs and assumptions of how logistics will work. They also aren’t here yet and so there is a credibility gap - business is going on as usual. People are therefore cautions for all manner of reasons – and that caution has served them well in the past. In this instance, the cost of being over–cautious could be catastrophic for our businesses”.  Godsmark encourages logistics companies to carry out some due diligence to better understand the applications of AV in the transportation sector; a strategy that prepares businesses to capitalize on the aforementioned opportunities.

When could we expect to see it fully integrated into our culture?  Godsmark suggests that “because the technology is already here in a limited fashion, we are talking about increasing capability over time.  An AV (truck) capable of driving itself on most Canadian routes might be available sometime between 2018 and 2025. We predict that we might see AVs that can serve most small city deliveries and inter-city (highway) deliveries by about 2023”.

Implementing gradual advancements towards full AV technology will be the means to acclimate our society to change.  This hybrid approach, with control still in the hands of the driver, may ease human reticence to adapt - but change is inevitable.  The old adage that the sooner we get used to the idea - the better, fits perfectly in the case of automated vehicle technology.

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Article Written by Ryan Zimmerman, Consultant, Triskele Logistics and co-authered by Paul Godsmark, Chief Technology Officer, Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excelence (CAVCOE)

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Ryan Zimmerman joined the team at Triskele Logistics as Consultant in 2015.  Ryan obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English at the University of Calgary in 2002.  His career trajectory began in the world of finance; evolving into an entrepreneurial role as business owner for 12 years with his partner.    Ryan is an expert project and relationship manager.  His strength is in his ability to construct and facilitate cohesive teams, interface with public agencies, and liaise with key stakeholders.


Paul Godsmark, P.Eng., C.Eng., M.I.C.E.
Chief Technology Officer, Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence (CAVCOE)
Founder, Autonomous Vehicles Task Force, ITS Canada
Transportation Specialist
+1 587-986-2002 (office + mobile)
Blog: Autonomous Vehicle Impacts

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