When about 10 years ago I was unleashed on the LNG world, I did not imagine that future logistics is going to be something I am going to spend a lot of time with. When we talked of logistics, we talked of supertanker sized loads of LNG that were landed at super-large LNG terminals where the liquid would be warmed and hence transformed back into gaseous form just in order to be injected into steel tubes at high pressure in order to cook a meal or produce some electricity.
The logistics I am going to talk about here is the everyday sort that you can see when the truck come replenishing your local supermarket or pharmacist or the pet shop at the corner. It is the kind of logistics that is necessary to tend to our everyday lives. The stuff that happens all around us.
Up to this day it remains a horrendously complex operation that involves vehicle management, workforce management, often a cold-chain, time management for time critical goods and traffic management in order to avoid congestion or not causing it, space management (those trucks need to stop somewhere in order to flip loads) and on and on and on. Its complex enough, to make a simple mind like mine, faint. I am not joking – I was working as a courier when I was young and it made me mad.
However, all this complicated horrid mess is going to change to the bone and it is not only because of the advent of online shopping for strawberry yoghurt. Most believe that internet shopping at this level will strain logistics systems beyond the breaking point and chaos will ensue.
However, a much more important change is the advent of driverless vehicles. Just imagine what a robot truck would look like and how it would operate. Everyday logistics would blend into our daily lives so neatly, you will not feel it if you do not care to raise your attention level to it.
Much of today’s logistics still revolves around the needs of the person driving the vehicle and doing the loading and unloading. They have working times, resting times and there are many other requirements that need attention and make things much more complex. Did I say that the human factor just makes things complex? Yes, I did that but before you send me an angry email asking me “But Rudi, don’t you care about people’s needs? This world is such a mean place already.”
I would not agree with the second statement and certainly not with the first. This world is a great place because I want it to be a great place and I care enough about people to free them from menial, hard labor to do better things with their lives. Whoever does not take that offer will only have to bear the consequences. You have been warned.
Back to logistics – for shops and markets, the best time to do the goodies delivery would be in the middle of the night when there are fewer vehicles on the roads. Fewer vehicles result in less congestion, which also means quicker, more efficient, and hence cheaper logistics.
A driverless vehicle would not be restricted by any human necessities. It could operate around the clock and if the vehicle were emissions free and not produce any meaningful noise, as a methane-electricity plugin hybrid would be, logistics would be out of sight and ear.
The vehicle itself would be a flat, self-driving platform without any driver cabin or other driver support systems. As the vehicle would be propelled by electric engines that are working inside the wheels of the vehicle, there would be no front or rear and it could be loaded or unloaded much more efficiently from all sides and angles.
It could also go back and forth just the same, would not have to worry about gearboxes and would have powerful electric brakes taking much of the tech that could go wrong out. Read in The PitBull of LNG how I imagine the perfect, heavy duty hybrid electric vehicle fuelled with LNG. It could open at any side resulting in a much more versatile vehicle that could work like a Petz machine where new stuff goes in on one side and other stuff on the other – if that is deemed an efficient way to operate. No drivers cabin in the way.
Delivery itself could also be done without human intervention. Self-driving electric carts on which the goodies are loaded would be deployed by the vehicle like a hen lays an egg and they would autonomously drive to the shop or market or whatever else place the final destination would be. In fact, as they are self-driving and fully autonomous, the vehicle itself would not be required to bring them all the way to the destination point but rather near it and could deploy in a short stop. Plus it would pick up those carts waiting to catch a ride.
The whole operation would be quick, efficient and the vehicle would continue doing what it does best. Doing the long haul while it is not bogged down in long loading and unloading operations anymore.
No human intervention makes it possible that things to be picked up will also be packed on such carts which will come in time to some drop-point where they will be picked up by the driverless platform for the longer haul and the others will be deployed.
The bigger vehicles could also be built in a manner that they could separate in multiple vehicles as each wheel has propulsion capability and rearrange but I am going far here.
As those carts will be autonomous, there is no good reason why they should not be able to go multimodal for some stretches using subways, trams or other means of transport when those means of public transport have available capacity and space. This would make for better usage of fixed line logistics systems and mass transport.
The vehicle and carts and everything else would be connected in a web and everything would communicate with each other and its surroundings. Instant communication will avoid waits or unnecessary accumulations and exploit any optimization possibility immediately.
Distribution centers and vehicle hubs would also be fully autonomous and hence optimize vehicle management, refueling, maintenance and loading – unloading cycles. Larger vehicles would work in much the same manner and avoid choking points. Large trucks would be able to roll 24/7 as there is no driver to take care off and they would always comply with traffic rules, never speed and only roll when it is easy to do so debottlenecking cities and freeways.
The logistics of the future will do much to make our lives better and it will not have any human intervention necessary anymore. However, it will also be changed by the advent of 3D printing, as many goods will simply not have to be transported by such vehicles anymore.
But this is for another post.