What does the AI revolution mean for transport?

With the likes of Amazon cooking up a storm in the world of research and development, what will the inevitable market disruption mean for skilled workers? Skills for Logistics MD David Coombes considers how the game could change, and how skilled workers should play it.

Last month I talked about the robotic revolution that will transform our profession in the next 10 to 20 years.

To anticipate how new technologies will disrupt the labour market it is important to consider what problems they will solve.

Logistics is about solving the movement of goods as efficiently as possible. As such, there will always be demand for technologies that reduce cost, improve speed and boost performance. 

The UK Logistics Sector has a set of complex problems beyond the customer need. Our aging workforce, our lack of young talent and the uncertainty around our trading future leave our sector ripe for disruption. If new talent isn't attracted then technology is the sector's only route to reconcile its current labour demand issues.

If current market leaders do not invest in these technologies then a tech start up in the same vein as Uber or Airbnb will disrupt and take their place. If this sounds too much like science fiction, consider Amazon and how they started as a bookseller and now lead in logistics, retail, media and manufacture.

That is the power of new technology - Amazon's investment in R+D opened it up to be competitive in other sectors.

So what will disruption look like?

There are a number of emerging technologies that are 'game changers', none more so than the commercialisation of artificial intelligence. AI is less about terminator style machines and more about management and allocation of resources.

If your entire fleet of vehicles, tools, robots, machines are 'talking' to your AI then much greater efficiencies can be found as servicing becomes automated, safety is improved and processes run like clockwork without so much as a human touch. 

Robots of all shapes and sizes are available now. Take, for example, Boston Dynamic’s Spotmini which coming to market in 2019.

The Spotmini can see in the dark, climb stairs and even open doors  - it could replace traditional security.

If new talent isn't attracted then technology is the sector's only route to reconcile its current labour demand issues.

Autonomous barges are being developed by Rolls Royce, autonomous trucks by Tesla & Mercedes and Seegrid’s GP8 Series 6 autonomous forklift is on sale now. The future is electric, driverless and automated. 

How quickly these technologies are integrated depends greatly on government policy. If young people are incentivised to enter the sector, thus improving supply, the uptake of such technologies will be slowed but, for our sector to compete internationally, they are inevitable.

My advice for anyone worried about their future, is to pick up customer service skills - more in demand than ever and impossible for a robot to replace. 

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