The last mile of logistics is “the movement of goods from a transport hub to its final destination.” With bricks and mortar retailers shutting down by the day, e-commerce is growing exponentially with no signs of slowing down. In fact, it’s an industry estimated to have been worth over £150 billion to the UK economy in 2016.
Packaging supplier Rajapack wanted to know how companies could capitalise on these modern methods and speed up the logistics chain. Read on for how autonomous vehicles, such as self-flying drones and autonomous ground vehicles (AGV’s), could be set to drive change for employers and significantly boost their bottom line.
Cutting the costs of labour
According to Hitachi, the final cost of a journey makes up to 28% of a product’s total transportation cost. Much of this is made up of labour costs, which is why companies could lower the cost with less drivers. This may be through assisted driving at first, and then eventually removing the driver from the delivery process altogether. These savings may also mean that businesses can offer more competitive pricing, coming full circle to benefit the consumer.
Increasing speed and efficiency
Without a human driver, there will no longer be a need to worry about shift work, regulating drivers’ driving times and scheduling availability.
AGV’s can operate 24/7, 365 days of the year. IT Chronicles suggests, “autonomous vehicles that work all the time – without breaks, and without seats and other creature comforts … [They] could cut delivery times down from days to hours.” This would therefore drive the consumer demand for speedier, more efficient deliveries.
Reducing traffic congestion
With drones taking to the sky, they can reduce the traffic significantly on the ground. Perhaps more surprisingly, there is also potential for AGV’s to improve congestion. A series of tests on public roads by researchers from University of Michigan found that a single automated and connected car can improve traffic flow. This is said to be because a connected vehicle can adjust its speed ahead of time, therefore smoothing traffic flow and similarly acting as a preventative for traffic jams.
Reduce motor accidents at work
A study by McKinsey & Company predicts that, in a future where all cars are driverless, we could see a crash rate reduction of up to 90%. One of the reasons for this is that it can remove the possibility of human error: from loss of concentration, to delayed reactions and failure to follow the rules of the road. And delivery drivers in particular – who work long hours with few breaks – could be more susceptible to these errors.
However, there are many arguments to suggest that it works both ways. While self-driving cars don’t get tired, angry, frustrated or drunk, they also don’t have the understanding of the world that humans do. Self-driving vehicles largely “drive from moment to moment, rather than thinking ahead to possible events” that could happen at a split second’s notice.
What does this mean for employers?
If the future is indeed headed for autonomous driving, employers’ will likely look to relieve drivers of their duty. However, there are always going to be things that robots cannot do – which could provide an opportunity for drivers to retrain in new jobs with less risk. This could include working in tandem with AGV’s to take products to the front door, taking them in the house to assemble products or even operating the control centers for trucks.
With the many risks and security measures at stake with automated driving, it may be a while till we are walking alongside robots on the road. But be ready, because with no less than seven AGV’s racing to get their version on the streets, it’s a matter of when, not if.
 How customer demands are reshaping last-mile delivery by Martin Joerss, Florian Neuhaus, and Jürgen Schröder (Oct 2016)
Image credit: https://www.vox.com/2018/2/26/17053898/driverless-cars-self-driving-california-dmv-remote-operated-autonomous-testing