Autonomous Logistics and SMEs? A view on the future.

You can’t go a day without reading about the latest autonomous vehicle developments and trials, but what is the future going to look like for small and medium logistics businesses, especially more traditional or ‘legacy’ businesses? Will Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) get gobbled up by multinationals with huge budgets and swarms of autonomous vehicles?

There are so many extremely innovative movements in technology right now, and I’ll likely be introducing some new concepts to you in this but there are some truly exciting opportunities with the right mix of technology. The good news, is all of this is very adoptable. Why: because these days tech companies are just so good at making things simple and intuitive.

‘User Experience Design’ (UX) and ‘User Interface Design’ (UI): Is the simplification and beautification of the processes, interaction and interfaces between human and technology. Companies have dedicated specialists to these very specific functions enabling pick up and play technology without significant training required.

Yes, the future will all come from simple to install and simple to use technology. So with the comfort that mass change and adoption is possible - where is logistics heading for legacy businesses still operating in a very traditional logistics model without significant software support, who are trying to stay afloat and compete with the multinationals?

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning: With skilled labour often being expensive or scarce, AI is surging into logistics. Removing expensive dispatcher (human at computer assigning jobs to drivers) roles and learning to be more efficient and more effective in decision making through learned data, we will see a digital transformation of the industry through software as a service offerings (SaaS)- this will create new efficiencies and profitability long sought after by these traditional businesses. It is very reasonable to expect material increases in per-vehicle revenue through the smarter allocation, clustering and routing of jobs.

  • Autonomous Vehicles and Software: There will be a democratisation of logistics software, enabling even a 5 truck business in a small village in Indonesia to have an optimised, autonomous fleet management system with the best of machine learning and artificial intelligence and as advanced as the technology of a 11,000 vehicle giant in Australia, if not more. e.g.: Uber as a small business rolled out a driver app onto mobile devices which is much more efficient to upgrade and modify than a traditional hardware based Taxi system which is connected to very old, complex infrastructure. Nimble businesses can transform into unicorns before the multinationals have even completed the planning phase of change.

  • More Collaborative: The ‘silos’ (My customers are my secret, I shall not share) of the past will become ‘the hubs’ (My customers are my asset to which I can offer greater capability and earn more from) in a wider network. Companies will begin to work with each other, through technology. Similar to airlines and their ‘Star Alliance Networks’, I see an ‘Autonomous Super-network’ of small and medium players arriving. Survival will be about servicing your own geographical capability more efficiently than your competitor or any multinational through things Artificial Intelligence is years away from learning, like cultural and societal nuances, unmapped addresses, along with the much lower overheads small businesses carry once administration and fleet management is automated. This is an extension of the Autonomous Synchromodal model below, where the network improves in efficiency every time a new participant enters and offers its capabilities.

  • Synchromodal: A collaborative system will have the capacity to autonomously manage and synchronise a full supply chain, i.e.; Synchromodal. Sender -> Van ->Warehouse -> Truck/Train/Plane/Ship-> Warehouse -> Van -> Recipient. Senders will be able to throw any job at a network and the system will route and sequence all participants in the super-network rapidly with great cost efficiencies filling empty or part empty legs. Companies of all capabilities from bicycle couriers to long haul trucking companies will play their role in enhancing the model.


Above: A synchromodal network of Ship, Truck and Bicycle coordinated to complete a ‘to the door’ route by an autonomous system.

  • Blockchain: “What the ##$% is blockchain? And isn’t that just for money?”. The answer is it’s a distributed digital ledger… and no. Logistics and supply chain is actually the most beautiful use case for blockchain. With blockchain, we can securely don’t believe anyone has caught onto yet, and creates something so rapidly scalable that the multinationals may be left behind. Blockchain backed concepts like this have raised some $120 million in just days! Track, rate, pay and participate globally without third parties taking a clip and cutting into profits. Areas like credit card fees and foreign exchange fees being removed should see significant gains for carriers. Interestingly, blockchain will also allow for the purchase or syndication of autonomous vehicles by participants in an autonomous blockchain backed network. The crowd funding of individual assets (trucks, vans, delivery vehicles) to operate within an efficient and high volume network is an interesting new area for yield investment that I believe is exciting for those in the existing industry with expertise looking for residual retirement income.

  • Apps, Bots and Chats: Even the smallest companies will have access to driver side and sender side Apps, uberfying even the most bricks and mortar businesses. sender to consumer real-time communication so that everyone has full visibility, control and seamless communication within any job. powered bots will be able to take orders, provide customer service and reduce phone calls and associated labour costs. These new systems will have business to driver to sender and recipient functionality and enhancements - pulling all relevant information into a single conversation without human intervention.

To some, this may seem like a utopian SME ecosystem, however the technology is real, the use cases are often proven if not in similar models, and a platform that manages all of this is being built. My company Yojee is very passionate about this vision and supporting SMEs, and we develop this technology 18-20 hours a day with SaaS customers in Australia, Singapore and Indonesia already.

I really think its time the logistics industry as a whole sat down with the tech guys and began to embrace and really get excited about the way artificial intelligence, a distributed system and autonomous synchromodal transport can make a new kind of global superpower, bringing competitive to senders, whilst providing much-needed revenue and profitability to small and medium enterprise.


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