December 28, 2016
Column | outbound

The year of living disruptively

2017 is shaping up to be a tipping point when it comes to disruptive technologies. And not in the way you're probably thinking.

By Mitch Mac Donald

We're not big on predictions. They're a dicey proposition, after all. Look back to see how the pundits did last year and you'll find the media landscape littered with predictions that missed the mark—by a lot. But to our mind, 2017 will be different. Whether fearless or foolish, we're going to give it a try.

The year 2017 is almost upon us, and it could well be a tipping point with respect to the disruptive technologies we've been hearing about for years. It will not necessarily be a year marked by the emergence of new, game-changing technologies. Rather, it will be a year in which long-talked-about technologies move from the drawing board to real-world applications. And, yes, they will be disruptive.

By now, you're no doubt familiar with the short list of disruptive technologies: autonomous vehicles, delivery drones, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI). All have been endlessly tested, piloted, and trialed over the past two to three years. But it appears the fun is now about to begin in earnest.

Take autonomous vehicles, for example. As any Jetsons fan knows, the idea has been out there for decades. In 2016, however, the story arc changed. After years of seeing the occasional news story on, say, a road test of a driverless car, we're suddenly inundated with reports on new and expanded pilot programs, new technologies, and a host of new entrants into the market.

For instance, on Dec. 3 an Apple official confirmed the company's intent to develop a self-driving car in a letter to U.S. regulators. That came on the heels of reports in both the U.S. and Europe of autonomous trucks making trial deliveries, the most widely publicized being the mid-October delivery of a truckload of beer from Fort Collins, Colo., to Colorado Springs. The two-hour, 120-mile trip was conducted with a "smart" truck outfitted with sensors, radar, and cameras.

Yes, the truck did have a driver, but largely to monitor the vehicle's progress from the sleeper compartment. The driver reportedly took the wheel as the truck moved onto and off of the interstate—the first and last mile, if you will.

The test was conducted by self-driving vehicle specialist Otto in partnership with the giant brewing company Anheuser-Busch. Otto was acquired late last summer by Uber, which reportedly plans to run the company as a separate brand. Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski now heads up both the Otto autonomous trucking program and Uber's self-driving taxi service, which itself is expanding. Just weeks before now-famous beer run, Uber launched a pilot for a self-driving car service in Pittsburgh. In December, it expanded the pilot to locations in California.

In mid-October, we learned that all new Tesla vehicles are being equipped to operate autonomously, although that functionality isn't yet activated on the cars. When the time comes, turning on the driverless features will be a simple matter of a satellite-based download to the car, according to published reports. Tesla is considered a pioneer in this area, but it's not alone. The likes of Google and Ford Motor Co. are already well down the road to developing their own driverless vehicles.

Similarly, the drones we've heard so much about for the past few years took a big step closer to real-world application this month. On Dec. 7, Amazon completed its first drone delivery in the U.K. As part of a limited trial, it dropped off an Amazon Fire TV media player and a bag of popcorn to a nearby residence. According to published reports, it took just 13 minutes from the time the order was placed for the items to be delivered.

Buckle up. We could be in for quite a ride in 2017.

About the Author

Mitch Mac Donald
Group Editorial Director
Mitch Mac Donald has more than 30 years of experience in both the newspaper and magazine businesses. He has covered the logistics and supply chain fields since 1988. Twice named one of the Top 10 Business Journalists in the U.S., he has served in a multitude of editorial and publishing roles. The leading force behind the launch of Supply Chain Management Review, he was that brand's founding publisher and editorial director from 1997 to 2000. Additionally, he has served as news editor, chief editor, publisher and editorial director of Logistics Management, as well as publisher of Modern Materials Handling. Mitch is also the president and CEO of Agile Business Media, LLC, the parent company of DC VELOCITY and CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.

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