DHL and IBM back artificial intelligence logistics potential

Technology to extend human efficiency in terms of reach, quality and speed: report

DHL and IBM back artificial intelligence logistics potential
The cover of the DHL and IBM report


DHL and IBM have linked in a report gauging the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) in logistics.

The collaborative study, Artificial Intelligence In Logistics, predicts transport and logistics, as a late starter, will find its IA path smoothed by its use in the consumer, enterprise, retail, mobility and manufacturing sectors, at  time when "technology, business, and societal conditions have never been more favourable to widespread use and adoption".

"We believe the future of AI in logistics is filled with potential," the report’s authors say.

"As supply chain leaders continue their digital transformation journey, AI will become a bigger and inherent part of day-to-day business, accelerating the path towards a proactive, predictive, automated, and personalized future for logistics.

"Ultimately, AI will place a premium on human intuition, interaction, and connection allowing people to contribute to more meaningful work."

Data mine

They note that logistics companies have rich loads of structured and unstructured data to mine as they transition from legacy enterprise resource planning systems to advanced analytics, increased automation, and hardware and software robotics, and mobile computing.

"Logistics companies depend on networks – both physical and increasingly digital – which must function harmoniously amid high volumes, low margins, lean asset allocation, and time-sensitive deadlines," the report says.

"AI offers logistics companies the ability to optimise network orchestration to degrees of efficiency that cannot be achieved with human thinking alone.

"AI can help the logistics industry to redefine today’s behaviours and practices, taking operations from reactive to proactive, planning from forecast to prediction, processes from manual to autonomous, and services from standardised to personalised."

In a chapter headed ‘Predictive Logistics: The Next Operational Paradigm’, the report touches on DHL’s own machine learning-based predictive network management tool used to anticipate air freight transit time delays and enable proactive mitigation.

More familiar to trucking operators is ‘intelligent route optimisation’, with the likes of Deutsche Post’s SmartTruck system, mid-way through its second decade, which uses real-time routing algorithms for its fleet operators and drivers.

Its value is being augmented by other information sources, such as that provided by satellite imagery company DigitalGlobe.

"These images provide rich input sources for the development of advanced mapping tools to increase the precision of pick up, navigation, and drop off between its drivers and riders," the report says.

These will ultimately feed into realising platooning and autonomous fleets.

It mentions the collaboration between the British Transportation Research Laboratory, together with DHL and DAF Trucks, to pilot a platooning project on UK motorways next year.

Sun and cloud

The future foreseen is almost universally positive.

"Looking ahead, we believe AI has the potential to significantly augment current logistics activities from end to end," IBM Industry Academy global industry leader, travel and transportation, Keith Dierkx and DHL customer solutions and innovation senior vice president and global head of innovation Matthias Heutger write in their preface.

"As in other industries, AI will fundamentally extend human efficiency in terms of reach, quality, and speed by eliminating mundane and routine work.

"This will allow logistics workforces to focus on more meaningful and impactful work.

"We think there has never been a more exciting time for collaboration between logistics and technology professionals as they enable AI in logistics."

Big data from the information collected across a range of computerised sources will fuel this development along with the algorithms to harness it.

"As big data from operational, public, and private sources becomes exposed to and processed by AI, the logistics networks will shift to a proactive and predictive paradigm," the report’s conclusion and outlook section states.

"Computer vision and language-focused AI will help logistics operators see, understand, and interact with the world in novel, more efficient ways than before.

"These same AI technologies will give rise to a new class of intelligent logistics assets that augment human capabilities.

"In addition, AI can help logistics providers enrich customer experiences through conversational engagement, and deliver items before customers have even ordered them."

However, the authors do see an area or two of concern on this otherwise bright horizon, with the biases and intents of AI developers in danger of becoming "intertwined in the system’s decision-making functions, raising complex questions about the ethics of AI models".

The need for business, society and government cooperation to develop standards and regulations will be unavoidable.

The report can be found here.


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