IN NOVEMBER 2016, Australia’s transport ministers decided to reform vehicle regulations so fully automated vehicles will be allowed to travel our roads from 2020.
It will be a major disruption to the transport industry, one that forces vehicle booking systems to the next level. Not only will logistics systems book vehicles and log manifests, they will plan and monitor truck and rail routes as well.
The next generation of booking systems will therefore need to provide users with a complete ecosystem – a more predictable and consistent utilisation of assets that maximises the use of supply chain capacity. Automated vehicles carrying freight will be linked to this booking system.
More foreseeable and steady utilisation of capacity available will be possible in this new era, where big data, analytics and fully automated vehicles combine on one platform.
In this article, we’ll look at the profound effect that this will have on the port community, and what freight operators can do to embrace the change.
Vehicle automation in Australia
The National Transport Commission (NTC) defines automated vehicles as “vehicles that have some level of system automation which do not require a human driver for at least part of the driving task”.
There are four categories of automation: Partial, Conditional, High and Full. Many of us are familiar with the first when a human-driven vehicle self-parks or maintains a safe distance from other vehicles without driver intervention.
Conditional automation is where a human driver monitors the vehicle’s progress from inside while not having to drive or monitor the environment. If there are bad weather conditions, the human driver intervenes.
At the next level, highly automated vehicles will be able to operate on limited networks without a human driver but with some human intervention in certain situations, such as slow-moving traffic jams.
Full automation is when the vehicle has no driver, but performs as if it were being driven by a human. There is no human input at any point.
Interesting legal questions are raised by the highly and fully automated vehicle categories. Will it be necessary for the system operating the vehicles to hold a driver’s license? ‘Who’ is at fault in the case of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle?
In 2016, the NTC released a policy paper covering these issues titled, ‘Regulatory reforms for automated road vehicles’.
The role of autonomous vehicles in logistics
According to Alexandra Tornow, head of EMEA Logistics and Industrial Research at JLL, autonomous vehicles increase efficiency by reducing traffic congestion and accidents, and saving fuel through more efficient driving patterns. Driver shortages will also be solved, with an obvious saving on payroll.
A human-free logistics chain will probably be the first application for autonomous road vehicles and rail. After all, distribution networks follow fixed routes scheduled at specific times. Efficiency gains will be made by shaving off minutes in delivery time by taking alternate routes to avoid accidents or congestion.
Ranjan Sinha, former head of shipping and logistics at Qatar Steel, adds the current global trade slowdown – the industry is experiencing the lowest figures since the GFC – means ports and logistics firms need to be more competitive and smarter about the technologies they use.
How the Internet of Things is driving industry
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of sensors attached to objects that send and receive information about that object: position and speed in the case of a vehicle. Vehicle automation systems rely on the interior and exterior environment information that the IoT carries, such as fuel tank levels and traffic conditions.
Sinha identifies the IoT and autonomous vehicles as drivers of a new, smarter logistics chain fuelled by ‘Big Data’. This term describes the huge amount of data flowing through the IoT and informing technologies like autonomous vehicles.
“[Big Data] can be used both within port operations – for example, to help identify bottlenecks and indicate where preventative maintenance is needed to minimise downtime – and across the broader logistics chain,” he says.
Technological implications for freight logistics
The rise of IoT and Big Data and the simultaneous development of autonomous vehicles heralds a new disruption to the logistics industry, one in which humans are removed from the handling and transport of freight. The new role of management and staff will be to choose and maintain the digital platform on which the autonomous logistics chain runs.
The new, digital dashboard will not be viewed from the driver’s seat of a truck on an outback highway, but from a monitoring centre in a city far away. Decisions about the route taken by a container truck in Dubbo could be decided by a digital logistics platform based in Dublin.
This is an exciting time to be part of the port community, and also a time of great change. The next wave of automated vehicle systems will depend on the system you’re using now.
* Jeremy Chee is general manager strategy and commercial at 1-Stop Connections