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AI already driving results in the world of logistics and physical operations

Philip van der Wilt Profile picture for user Philip van der Wilt Samsara May 28, 2024
Samsara's Philip van der Wilt underlines how AI is being used by logistics firms to proactively make improvements to operations - going from safety monitoring to accident prevention.

AGV robots delivering cardboard boxes to a logistics distribution center © sasha85ru -
(© sasha85ru -

When it comes to innovation and logistics, DHL is streets ahead of the competition. Its pioneering approach to technology has helped this logistics giant to optimise supply chains, identify cost efficiencies and prepare its customers for the future.

What’s more, it’s more than happy to bang the drum for innovation in a sector that has, traditionally, been sidelined by the tech sector.

In a blog published recently, joint authors — Jennifer Miller, Vice President, Integrated Transportation at DHL Supply Chain, North America, and James Giedraitis, Head of DHL Americas Innovation Center — wrote about the transformative power of technology in the logistics sector.

They discussed the importance of having a technology vision while calling for those in the sector to shout about their progress from the rooftops — not just about what they’ve achieved, but why they’ve done it:

The point of new products and software shouldn't be to make people say ‘wow’. Instead, it's important to keep the ‘why’ behind your technology front and center.

Innovation isn’t just about bells and whistles

It’s an important point. After all, the pace of technological innovation is so fast, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all.

But as Miller and Giedraitis make clear: 

In the world of physical operations, trying to keep up with the latest technology innovations can seem like a marathon — that you need to run at a sprinter's pace. Take AI as an example. Even if you understand the concept, it can be hard to wrap your mind around how it's used to help a delivery driver do their job more effectively and get from point A to point B more safely.

They’re right, of course. But things are changing. The world of physical operations is becoming increasingly more responsive not just to the technology, but to the benefits technology can deliver.

One of the ways AI is being used to improve safety, for example, is by combining the technology with vehicle dashcams. Instead of merely recording what happens on the road, AI-powered dash cams can spot incidents even before they happen.

Take the issue of aggressive driving. A simple in-cab camera installed in a van or lorry can record a driver tailgating the vehicle in front. But that’s it. The best you can hope for is that footage will be used at a later date to coach the driver not to drive so close in the future.

An AI dashcam, on the other hand, takes the technology to another level. It uses a combination of distance estimation plus current speed data to detect unsafe driving. This information — processed in real-time — can then be used immediately to alert the driver to back off, so that they maintain a safe distance from the vehicle ahead.

Innovation drives safety

The integration of AI and real-time data processing turns a simple recording device into a real-time safety system that acts as an extra pair of eyes. That’s not all. Dual-facing dash cams — which focus on drivers as well as the road — can spot other behaviors such as distracted driving, driving without a seatbelt, and using a mobile phone while behind the wheel.

It’s like having a co-driver sitting beside you, whose sole job is to focus on safety. By addressing issues ‘in the moment’ the technology helps prevent incidents and accidents from happening in the first place. And if poor driving persists, the connected AI cameras automatically notify fleet managers allowing them to intervene, review and, if need be, set up coaching tailored for individual drivers.

John Kingman, IT Manager at Group Tyre, a leading player in the UK’s wholesale tire industry with a fleet operating predominantly in Southeast England, explained: 

We monitor performance issues such as speed, non-seatbelt wearing, eating at the wheel, and mobile phone checking.

The business installed dual-facing AI dashcams to improve driver behavior and fleet management as part of a longer-term journey towards enhanced fleet safety and operational transparency.

Explaining how the firm uses the technology to improve safety Kingman said: 

The device will automatically give them the feedback when they trigger an event for the first three times. And then, after the third event, it then raises it to our coaching team. It’s led to them really slowing down their speed, and there are hardly ever instances of drivers checking their mobile phone.

Accidents fell 80% in one year alone

Group Tyre is not alone. Trans Proxim Froid — a family-run business based in Franche-Comté near Dijon — runs a specialist fleet of refrigerated vehicles transporting fresh and frozen food between farmers, dairies, cheesemakers, wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets and restaurants.

A vital part of the food chain, the French firm installed dash cams as part of its ongoing modernization program which saw the number of accidents fall by over 80% in the first year alone.

Julien Normand, Director of Trans Proxim Froid, said: 

Whether it's a minor fender-bender or a more serious accident, the safety of our drivers is an absolute priority.

In-vehicle technologies such as dash cams now make it possible to act very effectively to reduce the number of road accidents and protect drivers, and we believe that it would be irresponsible not to use this tool.

And it doesn’t stop there. Both Group Tyre and Trans Proxim Froid use real-time GPS tracking — part of a cloud-based data platform — to give them a single system of record for their entire operation. Normand said: 

Temperature-controlled transport is a demanding business, in which quality and reliability are paramount to guarantee compliance with the cold chain, delivery times and customer confidence.

When a customer calls us to find out when he will be delivered, we no longer need to call our driver and delay the information: we can respond immediately to our customer with very precise information. This contributes greatly to their satisfaction and to our company's image of professionalism.

But these innovation hotspots are not isolated incidents. Across the world of physical operations, businesses are investing in technology to make their organizations safer, more efficient, and more sustainable.

Today, the industry is following in the footsteps of firms such as DHL to use technology to deliver better customer service and better outcomes. This is the transformative change that technology is bringing to transport and logistics. This is the difference technology can make.

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