Way back in 1990 the “must-see” sci-fi action movie was Total Recall. If you have seen it, and I bet you have, one of the standout scenes involves Arnie waking in a taxi, not knowing how he got there. The robot driver turns to face him and says, “Welcome to Johnny Cabs, where can I take you?” It becomes apparent that the robot is just a conduit to the onboard computer and the vehicle is essentially driverless.
The movie was set in the year 2084, but now, 62 years earlier, the sci-fi has almost become sci-fact.
However, it is not a driverless taxi that will be first to market but container laden trucks. At the time of writing there are at least three companies at advanced stages of trials on autonomous trucks.
Of course, all the manufacturers are quick to point out the advanced safety features such as 360-degree sensors, 1000 metre line of sight and split-second breaking. Nevertheless, it will be several years before the government will allow these vehicles on the highway without a live person also occupying the cabin.
Inevitably, autonomous trucking will become the norm, so what does this mean for the logistic industry and the supply chain in general?
First and foremost, there will be no strict shift patterns to adhere to, provided there is adequate power supply these trucks could have a rapid turn round. With regards to perishable goods this would be a total “game changer” to the supply chain, The autonomous trucks will be restricted to journeys between hubs, consequently a truck could arrive at one hub and another truck could immediately load and deliver to the nearest hub to the final destination. This would result in fresher goods, faster delivery times, real time information and huge cost savings.
Of course, unions have voiced concerns over potential job losses, but in-depth studies have found that the opposite is far more likely.
The reasons being that with autonomous trucks unable to negotiate the complexity of container and dock yards, drainage will be required to deliver to and from the hub. With rapid turn round this could ensure shorter but more frequent jobs. Moreover, with quicker movement of incoming cargo, there will be less bottlenecks of ships waiting to unload and more work for dockyard staff.
Clearly, all the timing benefits and potential cost savings can only benefit the logistics industry. Advanced technology at every stage of the supply chain will allow for faster, more precise deliveries, which in turn can only be advantageous to the customer and the consumer on a global basis.
There is one certainty, whenever autonomous trucking does become a reality there will not be some creepy robot saying, “welcome to Johnny Trucks, where’s your final destination?”