A lot of transportation and logistics focused social and business media headlines have been painting a picture on the large numbers of drones will be the future of parcel delivery.  Our Supply Chain Matters response has been one of skepticism to this notion principally because drones serve a specific purpose related to certain limited in scope delivery challenges. This challenge has always been about coming up with a more innovative surface transport technology.

That is why we call attention to a recent Reuters and Wired article titled: Amazon’s Real Future Isn’t Drones. It’s Self-Driving Trucks. This article observes that the current challenge remains that the transportation industry does not have enough qualified truck drivers, and the shortfall numbers are not getting any better.

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal indicating that Amazon is developing an Uber-like mobile truck-hailing app is just a prelude to the real challenge. Not so!

The conclusion is one that Amazon has demonstrated quite often in its history, namely addressing the bigger problem, one that has not been solved before, and that is addressing the need for autonomous self-driving trucks for long and short-haul shipments. Similarly, we and Wired have noted Uber’s and others ongoing efforts in the self-driving truck category. A recent tech industry pundit quipped on the CBS This Morning news program that Uber alone has just about hired every AI scientist from Carnegie Mellon University alone to develop such technology. In 2012, we all initially questioned why Amazon had interest in acquiring warehouse material handling and robotics technology provider Kiva Systems. We now know the result, namely hundreds of Kiva robots circumventing multiple Amazon distribution and customer fulfillment centers driving higher levels of efficiency and pick accuracy.

Amazon now has a fleet of over 400 branded tractor-trailers available for added experimentation and autonomous driving development. The online giant has an annual freight expense that is staggering for many other retail or online commerce firms. The Wired article observes that in August, Uber acquired self-driving truck company Otto for $680 million. Supply Chain Matters has previously brought reader visibility to heavy truck industry disruptor Nicola which is developing a hybrid electric-powered long-haul tractor that likely would be an ideal candidate for autonomous control. We have recently read of a plan that calls for delivery vans to transport goods to a local neighborhood where a fleet of delivery drones takes control for door-to-door delivery. Go figure!

In just a few days, millions of us will experience the Christmas holiday and the traditional opening of gifts. As you do so, think of the hundreds of drivers and operators who contributed hundreds of hours, many in the middle of the night and wee hours, toward having such gifts delivered on-time, and without damage.

Perhaps, soon, all we can thank is a team of genius’s who eventually develop a set of artificial and predictive intelligence algorithms that allow trucks to self-drive themselves, with fleets of drones attached to their bodies.  Then again, those genius’s will be millionaires and be lavishing in all forms of holiday gifts.

Bob Ferrari