High consumer expectations for fast deliveries are prompting retailers to turn toward automation to help speed up distribution. Almost 28% of warehouses globally are expected to be using commercial robots by 2025, up from just 3% in 2018. Since 2015, $1.2 billion in U.S. venture-capital has been invested in logistics-focused robotics and automation, and the broader market for warehousing and logistics market is expected to top $80 billion in 2023.
Tight Labor Market Encourages Automated Forklifts
Automated forklifts are becoming a reality in warehouses, as qualified and reliable workers become harder to come by. These forklifts can reduce product damage and prevent physical injury to warehouse workers, as well as improve productivity and accuracy. Many of the forklifts can also integrate with a WMS or ERP.
25% of SMBs’ Logistics Strategies Are Influenced By Amazon
Supply Chain Dive reports that one in four small to medium-sized businesses say that Amazon and Walmart’s one-day shipping offering will influence their logistics strategy in 2020. 47% of those surveyed said they plan to increase shipping and logistics spend, with many focusing that spend on new technologies.
For a long time, Amazon has been looking into applications for self-driving vehicles — and testing fleets of self-flying drones for making package deliveries. So it only makes sense that the Seattle-based online retailing giant would meld those vehicles for a warehouse-to-doorstep delivery system virtually untouched by human hands.
In a patent published today, Amazon inventors Hilliard Bruce Siegel and Ethan Evans describe a system that has autonomous ground vehicles transport packages to a customer’s neighborhood — perhaps even the street in front of the customer’s door — and coordinate the doorstep delivery with a drone.
Both types of robo-carriers would be in contact wirelessly with a central computer network that would manage the operation. The ground vehicle could be directed to head over to a fulfillment center, pick up shipments and plot a course for deliveries. Drones could flit back and forth to drop off packages and charge up at the vehicle.
The drones could be owned or operated by an entity that’s distinct from the ground-vehicle service — for example, by the managers of the apartment building that’s being serviced. You could have different companies put in charge of deliveries in different neighborhoods. The important thing is that everything’s coordinated through a central network.
Such a combination system would solve several challenges: For example, the battery-powered drones wouldn’t have to use as much juice as they would if they were flying directly from a fulfillment center to make a delivery. There’d be less noise, and less need to fly over other people’s property.
For ground vehicles, the system not only bridges the “last mile” of a delivery route — it addresses the last 100 feet. Siegel and Evans, who are veterans in the patent business, say that’s becoming increasingly important.
“Over time, an increasing frequency and volume of deliveries of items from e-commerce and mail-order companies has resulted in an increased need for faster and more efficient delivery methods,” they write.
The application was filed back in 2016, and there’s no guarantee that Amazon will develop an all-autonomous delivery system like the one described. But the description does provide an indication of what Amazon has been thinking about as it builds out its own end-to-end delivery system.