January 6, 2015

Report considers current state and future opportunities for self-driving vehicles

DHL research highlights advances and practical applications in logistics.

By DC Velocity Staff

Automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and driverless forklifts have been proving their worth in warehouse operations for some time now. But that's just the tip of the automated-vehicle iceberg when it comes to logistics applications, according to a recent report from DHL.

The report, "Self-Driving Vehicles in Logistics," begins by explaining how automated, or robotic, vehicles work; their potential benefits; and the regulations and policies that influence their acceptance and adoption. The report then reviews current uses in military, consumer, automotive industry, and public transportation environments. Finally, it highlights four logistics applications: autonomous transport and assisted picking in warehouses; autonomous outdoor logistics, such as airport, yard, and marine terminal operations; assisted highway trucking and convoying; and "last mile" delivery.

DHL's researchers predict that the logistics industry will lead the way toward a driverless future. "Some warehouse operations have been using self-driving vehicles to some extent for years," said Dr. Markus Kückelhaus, director, DHL trend research, in announcing the report's release. "Moving onto public roads is the next evolutionary step. With its history in deploying self-driving solutions in controlled environments, the logistics industry is in a prime position to further shape the future of self-driving vehicles."

Where to next? In a blog post, Kückelhaus suggests that the big focus will be on cars and trucks; in the near future, he says, we'll see enhancements to existing driver-assistance functions and the introduction of autonomous driving in specific situations, such as on congested highways. Further out, look for fully autonomous truck convoys on highways. Other opportunities include remote outdoor locations where harsh conditions put human drivers at risk, linehaul transportation, and last-mile delivery.

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