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Are We Ready for Transportation Technology?

Friday May 19, 2017


In writing the cover story for the May/June 2017 issue of APICS magazine, I had the pleasure of exploring some of the latest transportation technologies, including drones and automated trucks. Some analysts think that these new vehicles could be fulfilling their own transportation and distribution niches as soon as five or 10 years from now, which could change the industry in many ways.

However, one of the limiting factors to this speed of implementation is acceptance by society. “Technology often moves at a rate that’s much faster than society, business, politics or regulations are able to keep up with,” says Matt McLelland, innovation lab research manager at Kenco. As a result, people often are hesitant to integrate new technologies into their worlds. For example, people are concerned that drones could invade their privacy or that people on the ground could interfere with their flight paths, he points out.

Because these vehicles fly overhead, consumers also have expressed concerns about drones or their packages falling out of the sky and hurting someone on the ground, explains McKinsey & Company in its September 2016 report “Parcel Delivery: The future of last mile.” Plus, because these aerial vehicles will be visible to consumers in their yards and in their neighborhoods, this technology will be a frequent reminder of the shift from current norms.

Despite these concerns, McKinsey & Company found that 60 percent of survey respondents in China, Germany, and the United States say they are either indifferent to or prefer drone delivery. As I outline in the APICS magazine article, drone delivery offers quite a few benefits. One will be the ability to deliver goods to hard-to-reach places faster, which could actually make these vehicles enticing to both consumers and delivery professionals.

Similarly, automated trucks are bringing up some safety concerns as well, points out Roei Ganzarski, CEO of BoldIQ, a last-mile optimization software company. When automated truck accidents happen, people will be inclined to blame the technology, which will slow the progress of implementation, he says.

Still, Ganzarski believes automated trucks and drones will be statistically safer than human-controlled devices. “If you look at accidents, over 80 percent and [by some estimates] over 90 percent of accidents are caused by human error,” he says. “I have no doubt that Amazon will not release a drone into the public unless it is as safe as it could be. I have no doubt that Uber or Google or Ford will not release a driverless truck into the streets until they know it’s gone through all the tests. That’s not a concern of mine at all.”

I’m sure people were skeptical when trains, automobiles, buses, trucks, and airplanes first made their debuts, but now it’s hard to imagine life without these conveniences. I believe that, like their predecessors, drones and automated trucks are worth a try, and it will be exciting to see how these vehicles take on their own roles in the transportation and distribution landscape.



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