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Self-Driving Lorries: Could Public Fear Help Our Industry?

Automated, self-driving lorries have been a contentious topic which have grown from rumour to near-reality in recent years. We’ve voiced our concerns about the introduction of semi-autonomous vehicles when the planned ‘platooning’ technique was announced last year – from the decrease in road safety to the threats to employment.

But it seems that it is not just those in the road logistics and professional industries who are troubled by the looming threat of autonomous HGVs: Logistics Manager revealed the results of a survey which found that self-driving lorries were the second most frightening technological advancement, coming closely behind conscious machines.

The fact that self-driving HGVs are only slightly bested in the ‘fear factor’ by, essentially, the concept of robots which can think for themselves outside of human control, is telling.

When delving deeper into the 2,000 respondents’ worries, the reason ‘I don’t trust that they’ll be reliable and as quick to react as a human would’ was a top response, with an incredible 62% sharing this fear. This was a concern raised in our post last year, and the fact that it’s shared by the public only strengthens this.

Interestingly, when probed about their top concern, the respondents also cited that the possibility of machines replacing human workers was worrisome. Given that the study was asking the general public rather than a group of professional logistics workers, it’s understandable that autonomous lorries don’t evoke the same fears of job replacement for our nation’s professional drivers – but the fact that it is still a concern in general shows that we are not happy with the morality of people being replaced by machines.

The less trust the public has in the new technologies behind driverless HGVs, the more barriers the Government will face to implement them on our roads. As well as supporting our dedicated professional drivers, this public fear could also help to boost our industry’s image. The discrepancy between the public’s feelings towards the haulage sector and the reality of their reliance and the high standards of safety has been a topic which we’ve explored previously.

But when forced to think about the impacts of autonomous lorries on our roads, society must reflect on the fact that current drivers are, in fact, an incredibly safe and reliable workforce. Quick reaction times, practical human intelligence and expert training makes our professional drivers the dependable, reliable and indispensable part of the logistics chain.

Let’s hope that the future will bring even more awareness and recognition for our nation’s dedicated professional drivers!

AI: Robots in the Warehouse

As the technological world continues to progress in leaps and bounds, there’s no doubt that all sectors and industries have felt the presence of modern automation affecting and shaping the workplace year on year. Arguably one of the most advanced but controversial technologies is Artificial Intelligence – but what price must we pay for this progress?

So what exactly is AI? When asked, many minds spring to the thought of human-like machines with the capacity for human intelligence and logic, but governed ultimately by human restrictions. This, in essence, is AI – but we’re not talking about human-shaped robots here! Artificial Intelligence is a mechanical system created by humans built with certain rules which allow them to perform tasks which normally require human intellect – such as visual perception and decision making through data-driven learning experience. The popular ‘Siri’ feature on iPhones is an excellent example – an intelligent application which interprets and processes spoken language requests.

The next question is how AI can be applied to the logistics industry. Put simply, AI can work in the supply chain sector by becoming a predictor. By analysing data and looking at past patterns and a variety of intelligence-lead processes, the technology can forecast load and demand to highlight the most efficient route in the supply chain for the future. Whether this is looking at stock levels, health and safety investments or warehouse security, the more data that is fed into the self-learning system, the more accurate the predictions will be – meaning that an investment into AI will only become more and more worthwhile as time goes on.

We have already seen the beginnings of the application of AI in our industry with the date set for the trialling of self-driving HGVs. With smart technology that allows trucks to ‘platoon’ one behind the other but brake suddenly in the event of an incident, trained technology allows these vehicles to run their route without the aid of human drivers. Of course, as we have discussed in our previous blogs, such technology is not perfect – the rules of the road are complex, and human intuition is unmatched in preventing (as opposed to responding to) accidents.

Therefore, here at Barnes we cannot help but wonder if there may be some pitfalls to the promises of using AI in the warehouse. The most glaring issues manifest themselves quite simply into two categories: finances and the workforce. Firstly, although AI does promise to bring rewards in the form of increased profits, there is no denying that the technology is a hefty investment. AI specialists must analyse your business to integrate and implement the highly specialist systems – this is not something which comes cheaply. Secondly, we believe when discussing and taking advantage of advancing technology, business leaders must always think of the human impact. Yes, success comes with a flourishing business and growing top lines – but with success comes responsibility. We pride ourselves on providing excellent employment opportunities in the local area, and if any form of AI threatened to make human workers redundant, it should not be a decision made lightly – no matter the potential savings.

In sum, there is no denying that technology must be embraced by logistics businesses in order to move forward and provide the best levels of efficiency and, in turn, customer service. But we must always remember that our roles are more than looking at profit margins – when integrating new technologies, we must ensure that we see the lowest impact on our human workforce as possible. What do you think? If you’d like to share your thoughts on the subject of AI in the warehouse, head over to our Twitter or LinkedIn page and join the debate.