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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – XXIX – Logistics

A drone scanning pallets for real time inventory. Several companies are offering warehouse inventory based on drones. Image credit: Aptuser.

Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) and Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGV) are becoming more and more common and the FTI’s report foresees a significant increase in their deployment in the logistics, most notably in warehouse automation. However, as their flexibility increases and cost decreases, we can expect to see them used in several other areas, including manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture, retail, disinfection, security and cleaning. Logistic is likely to remain the top application and the one steering their evolution.

The use of AMRs and AGVs in warehouses is increasing automation, leading to a 70% decrease (job loss) in labour resources. Also, it is expected to provide more efficient use of the space (denser shelving).

Their evolution is made possible by artificial intelligence and better data harvesting resulting from image recognition and LIDAR. 5G (in particular provate 5G) may also be instrumental in increasing their spatial control (although in many warehouses WiFi 6 is likely to dominate the communications landscape). This is particularly important for the increasing interest in using drones inside warehouses for inventory as shown in the picture (watch the clip).

I am currently involved in the definition of a lab for manufacturing and autonomous driving in Turin, involving the participation of several industries, and one of the focus is the trial of AGVs in manufacturing and warehouses ambient, also through federated lab, so I can tell from first hand experience the strong interest of industry in this area.

According to the latest ResearchAndMarkets report their value should reach 13.2B$ by 2026 with some 1.5 million installed over the next 5 years. Interestingly,  their report is titled: The new Normal in our day-to-day operational activities. Looking further ahead, the expectation is to have some 6 millions AGVs in operation in the coming ten years.

Considering the increasing automation of warehouses, the streamlining of the supply and delivery chains with a decreasing number of warehouses and the push towards customisation at the point of sales and the message is clear the number of jobs in this area will continue to decrease, in spite of the uptake of the eCommerce.

The pandemic has seen a surge of eCommerce, hence the increased demand for workers to handle orders. In turns this has accelerated the drive towards automation and eventually this will result in a sharp decrease in jobs.

Another interesting trend emerging from the pandemic is a growing attention to the “cold chains”, that is the distribution chains that have to ensure a maximum temperature throughout the whole chain. Vaccines have placed strong demand, most of all the Pfizer one, requiring very low temperature from production to the end delivery point. It is not just vaccine, ofd course. Your sushi, as an example, is travelling thousands of miles before reaching your plate and it also requires a good cold chain. Artificial intelligence in the cloud is tasked with monitoring temperatures along the cold chain and finding alternative paths/rerouting in case the handling becomes risky. Also, a whole evolution of packaging is on the way to better protect products from temperature variations as well as to act as sensors for temperature monitoring.

According to the FTI’s report

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.