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Logistics UK public policy lead headlines autonomous freight webinar


In a sign that autonomous freight is climbing swiftly up the logistics industry’s agenda, more than 250 attendees from the logistics, automotive and telecoms sectors, as well as local and national government, registered to attend a webinar on the topic last week (9 June 2022).

Entitled Automated Freight and Logistics Technology Development in the UK, the webinar was hosted by Zenzic, an organisation jointly funded by government and industry to lead the move to a self-driving future.

VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF LOGISTICS

Michelle Gardner, Head of Public Policy and decarbonisation lead at Logistics UK, headlined the webinar, giving an overview of the business group’s work in the autonomous logistics space, which started in earnest with its first Future Logistics Conference in 2018.

“We started to put together a vision for the future of logistics,” she said, “with the thought that if we could describe what the industry needed to be by 2050, all the trials and possibilities could be part of a coherent plan to get us there.”

Rather than science fiction, the resulting vision was very much grounded in economic and business principles.

“What we want our industry to be is flexible and resilient, recognised for its value, with optimal efficiency and zero negativities,” Gardner said.

INNOVATION WORKING GROUP 

This work around the future of logistics naturally led on to Logistics UK creating an Innovation Working Group, which includes interested members and stakeholders such as Zenzic and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV). The group’s purpose is to test propositions by government and developers to progress common themes that are of benefit to the logistics industry. Its prime focus is to ensure that investment is business case led rather than technology led.

“There were some questions that we were particularly keen to explore,” Gardner said, “such as what problems could CAM [Connected and Autonomous Mobility] help logistics to solve, what are the most compelling use cases for technology, and what support might be needed by government.”

Through these meetings, Logistics UK mapped out the technology applications that were being developed or were already in use that fitted in the CAM category, and which would deliver the most for the sector. What emerged was that while some technologies, for example air drones, were quite niche and were likely to only be adopted by a small section of the industry, other applications like digital inventory and robotics in warehousing were being widely adopted by businesses.

In terms of business benefits, increased efficiency and reduced business costs came out top – unsurprising for an industry that works on low margins. However, members were also interested in reducing congestion and emissions, increasing safety, improving customer service and improving resilience.

STRONG BUSINESS CASE REQUIRED

New technologies need to deliver a clear return on investment for a business to be able to make a case to its board to invest, Gardner said.

“As connected and autonomous mobility is still developing, there may not be a strong enough business case yet for investment, or there is a danger that [new technologies] may not yield strong enough returns for a business.”

While large businesses will be able to invest earlier, widespread adoption is preferable as economies of scale will help reduce unit costs for new technologies. Therefore, Logistics UK sees benefit to support being aimed at early adopters to help speed up mass market uptake.

Gardner said that while it was clear that some members were keen to trial and adopt new technologies as they develop, it was difficult for the wider membership to become engaged, particularly the small to medium-sized enterprises, as they are dealing with day-to-day business issues.

INNOVATION FUNDING AND LEADERSHIP

As innovation funding and leadership can help drive technology developments and get technology trials off the ground, Logistics UK has welcomed the government’s recent announcement of its funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services, alongside additional funding for feasibility studies.

A flexible regulatory environment was important, Gardner argued, because if members were to get involved in technology trials that work across local authority boundaries, for example, they need to understand that these trials are allowed across the UK rather than in just one area.

“In the same vein, codes of practice and guidance that can ensure that topics such as data protection can ensure compliance and address consent around sensitive issues, was something our members were very mindful of,” she said.

On information about funding opportunities for businesses, members remained unclear about where to go to discover what is happening with trial funding or how to engage once funding has been allocated. Being able to engage and access information will help them understand how technologies are being developed and how they might adopt them into their business.

DEGREES OF AUTONOMY

During the mapping exercise, Logistics UK members highlighted that each degree of autonomy could offer a range of benefits to the logistics sector, which will increase and develop over time.

While vehicle automation could be used across the industry, Logistics UK is looking at specific use cases where they were able to deliver the biggest benefits.

“Trunking, where vehicles are driving very long distances, or a distribution centre-to-distribution centre journey could be some use cases, as well as local city delivery and collection vehicles,” Gardner said, “This is something that we’re exploring further with members.”

If you are interested in joining Logistics UK’s Innovation Working Group, please email the group’s secretariat via the link below.

*www.logistics.org.uk/innovationwg

Published On: 16/06/2022 16:00:21

 



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