November 3, 2016
In mid-October, Uber and beer made history. The San Francisco-based ride-sharing firm teamed up with Anheuser-Busch InBev to make the first commercial delivery via autonomous vehicle. The self-driving tractor trailer traversed 120 miles of Colorado’s I-25 while the driver hung out in the sleeper cab , and by all accounts, the ride went smoothly.
An unmanned 18-wheeler barreling down a highway in Colorado lugging a trailer full of beer is impressive for very obvious reasons (and it certainly gives Flobots something new to sing about). But it’s the effect that such an innovation has on the supply chains of the future that really boggles the mind.
A Bit of Background
Back in August, Uber made headlines after spending roughly $680 million to purchase Otto, “a start-up company less than a year old with fewer than 100 employees,” according to Reuters. Not a month later, Business Insider published an article claiming that self-driving trucks were almost certain to beat self-driving cars to the punch. The reason being that highway infrastructure is inherently less tumultuous to navigate than city streets. There are no pedestrians, fewer stops, fewer turns and fewer potholes.
In fact, some of the most successful features currently tied to Tesla, Volvo and other autonomous vehicle leaders are their ability to perform well even on traffic-heavy highways. Nevertheless, there are still quite a few complications with self-driving cars in cities, the worst of which, ironically, is how well they can respond to bad human drivers. In September, one of Google’s self-driving vehicles got t-boned after a commercial van ran a red light.
Self-driving trucks, on the other hand, have continued to show promise on interstates and, according to Bloomberg, have the potential to save $50 million each year in the U.S.
The Benefits of Automation
In 2014, trucks transported more than $700 billion worth of freight, which is nearly three times more than any other mode of transportation. Their contribution to the domestic and international economy is undeniable and will continue to be for years to come. So why the self-driving truck race? The answer is the same one people gave during the earliest deployments of interactive voice response systems: Automation saves time and money.
Manufacturers across the spectrum are well aware of this, and the only thing that has kept many companies from successfully automating more of their supply chain is the lack of technology to do so. As Uber, Amazon Prime Now and other service models that rely heavily on cloud and Big Data and machine learning have shown, there is significant potential for return on investment in supply chain automation tools.
Next Stop: The Entire Supply Chain
Uber’s accomplishment is extremely impressive, but and it’s an example of just one piece of the entire supply chain. Similar technology advances are also being made in other links of the supply chain with movements like Industry 4.0, Warehouse 3.0., as well as the proliferation of sensor data, and the Internet of Things.
These advancements will continue to evolve to make the entire supply chain autonomous. However, the true autonomous supply chain won’t be realized until all of the disparate efforts at autonomy are brought together to provide a true end-to-end autonomous supply chain that orchestrates all of these siloed steps.
Hard but not impossible thanks to advances in AI, Big Data and Cloud. We are moving closer to a time when autonomous supply chain end-to-end will be realized. As we see it, the future supply chain will be business-aware and be able to predict outcomes and prescribe actions.
The road to supply chain autonomy may seem impossible to navigate, but very soon it will be traveled by self-driving cars themselves.
To learn more about the difference FusionOps has made so far on real-world, complex supply chains, check out our customer videos.