Riding the wave of technology

Sept. 9, 2014
From drones to augmented reality, we are on the verge of major change

Has your business been riding the big waves of technological change in a boat that’s a little too small lately? If so, then maybe it’s time to consider a different boat.  That’s because the changes we’ve seen so far are only the start.  The trucking industry is used to change, of course, but is it ready for the arrival of the future?

My colleague David Cullen looked at one significant technological advance last month in the pages of this very magazine. His story focused on machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies, something that allows communication between computers and even vehicles.  It is M2M communications that allow real-time vehicle diagnostics to be performed even as vehicles traverse the highway.

M2M is just one example.  There are plenty of others, such as in-cab safety systems.  Here’s a few more.  In the past few months, companies such as Daimler and ZF have shown off autonomous driving vehicles.  Amazon and UPS have been toying around with drone use in package delivery.  Drones may also someday be used to provide security for loads at high risk of theft or to build pallets in the warehouse, as envisioned by Qimarox, a manufacturer based in Harderwijk, Netherlands.

Now comes augmented reality (AR). A recent report from global package delivery giant DHL suggests that augmented reality has the potential to change the way shipping and logistics are handled.  DHL believes that AR can merge what is real and what is computer-generated by adding layers of digital information such as sounds, videos, graphics or GPS data in the line of vision with the use of  devices such as glasses or smartphones. Google Glass anyone?

“With concrete business benefits coming to light, experts are convinced that AR will be the next big thing in the consumer, medical, mobile, automotive, and manufacturing markets,” DHL said.

“Delivery vehicles with augmented windshields could display real-time traffic data, as well as other valuable information, such as cargo temperature and alerts, thereby minimizing driver distraction,” wrote Charles Brewer, managing director of DHL Express Sub-Saharan Africa.

The DHL report also noted that drivers and staff could be equipped with wearable devices to access information on packages.

“This information could include the type of goods being transported, each parcel’s weight, delivery address, and whether it is fragile or requires specific positioning to avoid damage.  The device could calculate the space requirements for each parcel in real time, scan for a suitable empty space in the vehicle, and then indicate where the parcel should be placed, taking into account the planned route,” the report said.

Augmented reality could even improve maintenance and repair services if workers are equipped with smart glasses that display step-by-step instructions, eliminating the need to continually return to a computer screen.  In the warehouse, order pickers could quickly locate the correct items, again through the use of specialized glasses.

What the report does not mention is that technology is changing rapidly—and in the next few years, it is going to change trucking. Whether it’s increased use of drones, augmented reality, or some other as-yet-unidentified technology, we are on the cusp of a sea change in trucking.  A word of advice, though. If you choose to navigate the waters ahead in the dinghy you’ve been riding for years, be sure to have a life vest on board. You’ll need it.

Brian Straight is Fleet Owner’ s managing editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Join the conversation on Twitter @truckingtalk.

About the Author

Brian Straight | Managing Editor

Brian joined Fleet Owner in May 2008 after spending nearly 14 years as sports editor and then managing editor of several daily newspapers.  He and his staff  won more than two dozen major writing and editing awards. Responsible for editing, editorial production functions and deadlines.

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