We hear a fair amount today about technological advances taking place in the logistics industry. And for the most part they revolve around data and the IoT. IoT applications in logistics are already transforming supply chains in numerous ways. Inventory is becoming easier to track, route planning and order fulfillment are more exact, and more data is being gathered. Existing IoT changes aren’t the only ways in which technology is changing and improving logistics though. It’s also becoming clear that robotics have a role to play in bringing this industry into the future.
This is actually going to happen most easily in smaller operations within the broad concept of logistics. While we tend to think of this industry as pertaining only to big businesses and massive shipping operations, countless smaller delivery businesses contribute as well. And we know already that small businesses are investing in robots just as bigger companies are. This is a result of both the decreased expense of some robotics and the desire of small businesses to speed up operations and hit more targets in order to compete more effectively.
This is going to happen in small-scale logistics and delivery businesses as well. One of the benefits to starting a delivery business in general is that the startup costs and overheads can be quite low aside from a vehicle. Smaller delivery businesses today have to raise capital for whatever vehicles and vehicle maintenance they may need, in other words — but can otherwise keep costs quite low. And advancing contactless delivery bots could make even the costs of delivery vessels lower, or at least turn them into one-time expenses with little need for maintenance (let alone paid drivers). While the idea of “drone delivery” sort of came and went a few years ago without ever becoming particularly serious, these delivery bots are beginning to look like reasonable, reliable options for local delivery.
Naturally, these bots won’t be cheap in the early going, and may exceed some smaller delivery businesses’ budgets. But in time, they’re likely to be far cheaper to purchase and maintain than fleet vehicles — further bringing down these businesses’ costs, and in turn maximizing profit potential.
The same could well occur on a greater scale for larger logistics companies, meanwhile. In these companies, the idea of delivery drones is not dead yet, and robotically driven, driverless cars are also being developed with some urgency (though shifting regulations to allow them on public roads may be another battle altogether). It’s not difficult to imagine a world in 10 years in which the primary vessels and vehicles in land-based logistics operations are in fact run robotically.
In the meantime, we have already seen robotics technology making a meaningful difference on the warehouse side of larger logistics operations. In fact, in larger discussions on robotics in business, applications in warehouses and logistics have been said to have had the most substantial impact on global commerce to date. While specific applications vary greatly, the general idea is that robotics have already massively increased efficiency in fulfilling orders, producing inventory, managing warehouse equipment, and more.
In the end, we will eventually look at both small and large logistics operations as some of the businesses most affected by the rise of modern robotics.