In a bid to increase efficiency while still delivering great service, often at a lower cost, transport and logistic specialists are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence.
While many sectors have long since embraced the benefits of computing and connectivity to increase their productivity it is only recently that the field of transport and logistics have started to see the benefits of artificial intelligence. It is hoped that eventually this smart technology will revolutionise the industry. The key role artificial intelligence currently plays is in the analysis of enormous stores of data. Once this is concluded the technology is able to propose optimised ways of using the information it has gathered. Eventually artificial intelligence will, it is hoped, be able to not only act, respond and intervene but also learn and predict what is likely to happen. It is this potential that transport and logistic leaders are hoping to harness.
While it is often feared that the rise of artificial intelligence will replace human employees this is not the case. Instead it is hoped that the new technology will be able to aid human workers, making their jobs easier. Currently artificial intelligence is used to assist in the processing of huge amounts of information. While this may ordinarily take a human being some considerable time with the aid of artificial intelligence the worker is able to do the task quickly before producing a detailed summary of the data. It is thought that the enhanced capabilities and performance of software along with connected robotics and the Internet of Things will soon be able to eliminate the drudgery of certain jobs. This artificial intelligence will also allow companies to fully utilise the power of the information they command.
According to Vincent Levasseur, head of the Paris based Bolloré Transport & Logistics’ innovation unit, “”Data is today’s most valuable resource, and the players who possess the most and use it effectively will come out ahead”. The Bolloré Transport & Logistics’ innovation unit was launched in 2016 with the express purpose of utilising artificial intelligence. As well as identifying new processes and service potentials within the digital revolution the unit also promotes these opportunities to the wider Bolloré group, it does this by identifying artificial intelligence opportunities that are valuable to everyone. Levasseur believes that artificial intelligence “allows employees and businesses to increase productivity and speed, and provide added value services to customers at decreased costs”.
Developments in artificial intelligence combined with mathematical and algorithmic expertise from the Machine Learning discipline means that computers have the ability to continuously learn and adapt without the need for constant reprogramming. Relatively new vocations such as data scientists and big data specialists focus specifically on using new applications to process structured data. The analytical tools developed here can also be used on unstructured input such as news articles, social media content, videos, pictures and sounds. This generates predictive models pertinent transport and logistical activities. For example, if this analysis picks up news of a strike at a key port artificial intelligence can recognise the importance of this news and will alert transport managers to reroute shipments through alternate locations.
Artificial intelligence is also playing a role in other parts of the transport and logistic sector. In automated warehouses and distribution centres artificial intelligence is being used to enable robots to carry out various tasks. In some instances visual recognition is allowing artificial intelligence to enhance shuttles that collect goods for shipping by also enabling them to identify when shelves need restocking. This technology can potentially also allow machines to take inventory whilst performing other tasks in the warehouse or distribution centre.
Artificial intelligence will also allow the information collected by one robot to share its data with all the other robots in the system or a central computer. This allows for a more unified system. At Bolloré Logistics the use of artificial intelligence in this way has allowed staff to experience a faster, deeply enhanced, real-time knowledge of warehouse content and flows.
However it is important to remember that for artificial intelligence to be fully effective and efficient, human discipline and rigor is essential. As Levasseur observed artificial intelligence is “only as good as the data that is put in the system”.