Best Logistics Technology News of 2019

Best Logistics Technology News of 2019
20 min read

Picture Credits: DCSA, Port of Rotterdam, Volvo Trucks, Continental, Nikola Motor Company, Uber Freight, Flexport, Wing, Amazon

At the beginning of the new year, it is always useful to go back and analyze the announcements of the previous year to better understand what is coming ahead. While we have already discussed the logistics and supply chain technology trends for 2020 earlier, looking at the news from 2019 can adjust our vision for the announcements of the current year and demonstrate which companies and sectors we should expect to develop the most over 2020.

Below are the most important and interesting logistics technology announcements which were on our radar during the past year – from the growing importance of investment into the sector to impressive real-life cases of the most innovative technologies in logistics and supply chain.

Here is the list of topics in this article:

Container Shipping Announcements

Digital Container Shipping Association

The DCSA Supervisory Board. From left to right: Rajesh Krishnamurthy (SVP IT & Transformations at CMA CGM), Adam Banks (CTO & CIO at Maersk), Martin Gnass (Managing Director IT at Hapag-Lloyd), André Simha (CIO at MSC) and Noriaki Yamaga (Managing Director, Corporate & Innovation at ONE). Picture Credit: DCSA

After gaining regulatory approval from the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), four container shipping companies – MSC, A.P. Moller – Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and Ocean Network Express – officially established the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) on 10 April 2019 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The aim of the association is to create common information technology standards of digitalization and interoperability, to make the industry more efficient for both customers and shipping lines.

Following the official establishment, on May 14th Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) announced that five more ocean carriers have joined the association as members: CMA CGM, Evergreen Line, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation and ZIM Integrated Shipping Services.

At the beginning of September, Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) published the first version of the Container Shipping Industry Blueprint. This set had been dubbed ‘IBP 1.0’ and comprises recommended current state standards for the processes used in container shipping, as seen from the carrier’s perspective. You can already download the Industry Blueprint and all the necessary documentation here.

In order to understand more about how the DCSA plans to move the shipping industry forward, we’ve talked with Thomas Bagge, CEO and Statutory Director of the DCSA. Thomas spent over 12 years in various transformation activities at Maersk covering people, processes, and technology and his extensive industry expertise is a crucial aspect for leading DCSA.

Read the Interview…

The Spotlight on TradeLens

TradeLens and Blockchain Technology Supply Chain Demo

Apart from DCSA, the attention of the shipping companies was directed towards Maersk’s and IBM’s blockchain platform – TradeLens. To put it short, TradeLens uses blockchain technology to enable trust between multiple trading partners – from carriers to freight forwarders, customs officials, port authorities and more — when transacting in a digitized global trade documentation process. The ecosystem’s members get a single shared view of a transaction without compromising details, privacy or confidentiality and can collaborate more efficiently and with greater certainty through real-time access to shipping data and shipping documents.

In April 2019, ZIM Integrated Shipping Services signed on as a member of TradeLens. The rapid adoption of the platform across the global shipping supply chain continued as CMA CGM, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd and Ocean Network Express (ONE) have also announced their participation later on throughout the year. With the addition of all these carriers to TradeLens, data for nearly half of the world’s ocean container cargo will be available on the platform. Recently, the five container line participants in TradeLens (excluding ZIM) have filed an agreement with the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) that would allow them to exchange data tied to US trades.

The Rising Importance of IoT

This is Container 42

One more important trend, that we’ve noticed among the container shipping announcements was the push for a better IoT adoption to improve operational visibility. A great example of that is Traxens, an IoT company providing high-value data and services for the supply chain industry, which announced in 2019 that Maersk will be joining CMA CGM and MSC as a key shareholder and customer of Traxens.

Following the agreement, Maersk will invest capital in Traxens, in which it will have similar shareholder rights as CMA CGM and MSC. Maersk also commits to order up to 50,000 Traxens devices, a similar order to those placed earlier by CMA CGM and MSC.

In addition to that, in October, Traxens joined Port of Rotterdam’s groundbreaking Container 42 initiative. Over the course of two years, Container 42 will be shipped to ports around the world and share information it gathered on this data-collecting mission. The IoT solution will provide an important part of the entire embedded technology – it will measure changes in everything from vibration, acceleration, position, and sound to local air pollution, temperature, and humidity.

However, Traxens was not the only company to lead the innovation in the container shipping IoT sector. Another solution worth mentioning was Globe Tracker, a leader in IoT tracking and monitoring for logistics assets. Together with SeaCube Containers, the provider of refrigerated shipping containers, and gensets, they have announced the partnership to provide IoT-enabled gensets for Ocean Network Express (ONE).

Furthermore, Hapag-Lloyd introduced “Hapag-Lloyd LIVE” offering real-time GPS location, temperature information and power-off alerts fro the clients. In an initial step, the company is equipping its entire reefer fleet of some 100,000 containers with IoT solutions developed by Globe Tracker.

Read the Interview with Globe Tracker…

Trucking & Delivery Announcements

Alternative Power

Best Logistics Technology News
Picture Credit: UPS

Electric trucks are now in the spotlight, thanks to the overall increase in the production of electric vehicles. However, electricity is not the only eco-friendlier option when it comes to switching from gasoline and diesel. The companies are also investing in Natural Gas and Hydrogen-powered vehicles.

For instance, UPS presented its plans to purchase more than 6,000 natural gas-powered trucks until 2022 with a $450M investment in expanding the company’s alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicle fleet as well as supporting infrastructure. The new vehicles will be equipped with compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel systems provided under an exclusive agreement with Agility Fuel Solutions, It will help reduce UPS’s carbon footprint and is expected to have a positive influence on national CNG market growth. 

In addition to that, in April, during the Nikola World event, Nikola Motor Co. presented its updated hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric Class 8 truck models for the North American and European markets – Nikola Two and Nikola Tre. The Nikola Two is the sequel to the Nikola One hydrogen fuel cell truck that made its debut in December 2016. The vehicle can accelerate and stop faster than any existing truck on the market and offers up to a 960-km range.

However, electric engines are still the best alternative to the internal combustion engines. In March, Swiss Post and Austrian Post along with Portugal’s EDP and New Zealand’s Meridian Energy had joined the EV100 initiative of the Climate Group to further electrify their service fleets. The initiative aims to replace 22,000 fossil-fuel-powered vehicles with 22,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 decreasing the negative environmental impact of deliveries.

But the more impressive announcement about comes again from Nikola – the company unveiled the details of its new battery technology that could increase the range of current vehicles almost twice – from 300 miles up to 600 miles with little or no increase to battery size and weight.

“This is the biggest advancement we have seen in the battery world. We are not talking about small improvements; we are talking about doubling your cell phone battery capacity. We are talking about doubling the range of BEVs and hydrogen-electric vehicles around the world,” highlighted Trevor Milton, CEO, Nikola Motor Company. Imagine this technology combined with the potential of Autonomous Trucks?

Autonomous Trucks

Talking about Autonomous Trucks, 2019 had great developments in this sector. According to the Volvo Trucks, in a first of its kind real-world assignment, Volvo Vera, an electric, connected, and autonomous vehicle, will form part of an integrated solution to transport goods from a logistics center to a port terminal in Gothenburg, Sweden. The assignment is a result of a new collaboration between Volvo Trucks and the ferry and logistics company, DFDS.

Another important announcement about Trucking came from UPS and an autonomous driving company TuSimple. In August, UPS Ventures made a minority investment in the startup. Together, both companies are testing self-driving trucks on a route in Arizona to determine whether the vehicles can improve service and efficiency in the UPS network. This is an extension of the ongoing commercial relationship between UPS and TuSimple in which UPS purchased transportation services from TuSimple. The company initiated a self-driving service in May 2019, with a driver and engineer in the vehicle.

During the same month, Loadsmart and Starsky Robotics were able to automatically dispatch an autonomous truck to haul freight; having successfully priced, tendered and booked via Loadsmart and then picked up and delivered the shipment using Starsky’s self-driving technology. The integration of Loadsmart’s AI-powered pricing and load matching technology with Starsky’s API meant no human intervention was required.

Another pilot project was conducted by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics that are actively developing and testing automated trucks on public roads in southwest Virginia, where Torc Robotics is headquartered. All automated runs required both an engineer overseeing the system and a highly trained safety driver certified by Daimler Trucks and Torc Robotics.

Picture Credit: Plus.ai

Furthermore, in December, Plus.ai, a leading provider of self-driving trucking technology, announced the completion of the first coast-to-coast commercial freight run with an autonomous truck on behalf of Land O’Lakes, Inc. Spanning 2,800 miles, Plus.ai’s Level 4 autonomous truck completed the hub-to-hub trip in less than three days. It was the first Level 4 U.S. cross-country commercial pilot hauling a fully-loaded refrigerated trailer of perishable cargo.

However, it is not only the US who is leading the autonomous race. Earlier in 2019, China Post and Deppon Express, two of China’s leading delivery and logistics companies, had begun autonomous package delivery services with the first self-driving vehicles to be put into daily commercial use in China. The delivery trucks operate on autonomous driving technologies developed by FABU Technology, a leading artificial intelligence (AI) company focused on intelligent driving systems.

Delivery Robots

Autonomous Robot Dog Delivers a Package at CES

While a lot of exciting autonomous developments had happened with vehicles, the logistics robots were not lagging behind. For instance, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority and FedEx Express, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) providing for the autonomous delivery robot Roxo to have its international debut in Dubai. As an autonomous personal delivery device, Roxo is pedestrian-safe and advanced technology including LiDAR and multiple cameras, allowing the zero-emission, battery-powered bot to be aware of its surroundings.

In addition to that, JD.com launched two smart delivery stations in the cities of Changsha and Hohhot. China’s largest retailer makes this move in order to strengthen its autonomous logistics capabilities. According to the company, one of the essential parts of the delivery stations are robots that can be loaded with up to 30 parcels and are able to deliver them within a 5-kilometer range.

The vehicles can plan routes, avoid obstacles and recognize traffic lights. In addition to that, the facial recognition enables clients to easily and securely collect their parcels. The delivery stations, operating with a half-half split between robots and couriers, can deliver up to 2,000 packages a day, running at full capacity.

However, if there was a competition for the strangest robot delivery solution, Continental would win the Grand Prix. During the press conference at CES 2019, the company presented its vision for the future of goods and parcel delivery. The concept is based around Continental’s driverless electric vehicle, the Continental Urban Mobility Experience (CUbE), a minibus-sized pod which interior can be reconfigured to fit different purposes. The vehicle will contain “robot dogs” (watch the video above) taking care of the last steps of the delivery chain. The robot prototype slightly resembles the one developed by Boston Dynamics.

Uber Freight Expansion

Picture Credit: Uber Freight

This article would not be complete if we did not mention Uber Freight. Following the successful launch in the Netherlands and Germany, the company had moved on to take over the Polish market. In October the company announced that it brings its platform which connects carriers with loads to haul, offering upfront pricing, fast payment, and the ability to book loads with a few clicks to Poland.

However, the European market was not the only focus of Uber Freight in 2019. The company also announced that it is expanding its operations into Canada to move domestic and cross-border truckloads. Another notable move that Uber Freight did in North America is its plan to invest $200 million annually to strengthen its presence in the north-western US, namely Chicago. The expanded business will be headquartered in a newly opened office in downtown Chicago where it will house 2,000 employees that Uber plans to hire over the next three years.

“We’ll grow our team significantly, hiring thousands of new team members who are inspired by our mission to reimagine modern logistics. Specifically, Chicago will quickly become our first engineering hub outside of San Francisco, where we’ll scale the team that keeps pushing our technology forward,” – shared Lior Ron, head of Uber Freight, in a statement.

Drones

Picture Credit: Wing

Last year was also very exciting for the logistics drones’ development. The sector is still young but the path ahead is clear and bright. For instance, In June, Europe published common rules for the use of drones. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says the regulations, which will apply universally across the region, are intended to help drone operators of all stripes have a clear understanding of what is and is not allowed. Although published in June 2019, the Member States had got another year, until June 2020, to prepare and implement the requirements.

“Europe will be the first region in the world to have a comprehensive set of rules ensuring safe, secure and sustainable operations of drones both, for commercial and leisure activities. Common rules will help foster investment, innovation, and growth in this promising sector,” said Patrick Ky, Executive Director of EASA.

As the sector is still new, the governmental push can help to sort a lot of things out for the drone users and service providers. While the EU had prepared the long-needed ground for drone operations, a more impressive announcement came from across the Atlantic ocean.

UPS received the U.S. government’s first-ever standard certification to operate a drone airline. The company will initially expand its drone delivery service further to support hospital campuses around the country and to provide solutions for customers beyond those in the healthcare industry. UPS Flight Forward plans in the future to transport a variety of items for customers in many industries, and regularly fly drones beyond the operators’ visual line of sight. Earlier in 2019, UPS partnered with drone-maker Matternet to launch its healthcare delivery service on one of the US medical campuses.

Another logistics drone announcement worth mentioning is a pilot program by Wing, an Alphabet’s drone delivery company, FedEx Express, Walgreens, and local retailer Sugar Magnolia that made a drone delivery available to residents of Christiansburg in Virginia’s New River Valley. The pilot project in Virginia is conducted as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program.

Earlier in 2019, Wing had launched their first air delivery service in Canberra, Australia. The service allows customers to order a range of items such as fresh food, hot coffee or over-the-counter chemist items in a mobile app, and have them delivered directly to their homes by drone in minutes.

Investing in the Digital Future of Logistics

Logistics Innovation News
Picture Credit: Flexport

We have talked a lot about innovation and the technological development of logistics and supply chain. However, it is important to mention that all of this would not happen without clever financial investment. And to say that 2019 had a lot of news around this topic is to say very little.

Perhaps the most fascinating investment announcement of the year comes from the San Francisco-based full-service air and ocean freight forwarder – Flexport. According to the company, it raised a massive $1 billion, bringing its valuation to $3.2 billion.

With its great track of investments, the freight forwarder is moving faster than it is updating its marketing materials – Flexport CEO Ryan Petersen had stated that the company employs 1,066 people at the moment of investment while their website stated it has just 600 employees. Flexport’s ultimate goal is to compete more directly with such logistics giants as DHL, FedEx, and UPS. Aiming to accomplish this goal, the freight forwarder now charters its own aircraft and operates several warehouses around the world as well.

Another great instance of the investment trend is Roadie, an Atlanta-based peer-to-peer delivery company, which decided to build its service around the concept of Sharing Economy. Since it was launched in 2015, Roadie teamed up with such brands as Delta, Walmart, the Home Depot, Kroger, Macy’s, and United to fulfill deliveries to over 224 metropolitan areas in the US.

Further down the line is Lalamove, a Hong Kong-based on-demand logistics startup that closed a $300 million Series D round to accelerate its expansion across Asia. Founded in 2013 by Stanford graduate Shing Chow, the company provides an Uber-like logistics and delivery services primarily to business and corporate customers.

Moreover, the second biggest player in the US online food delivery market DoorDash announced that it had raised $400 million in Series F financing. The investment values the company at $7.1 billion and was co-led by Temasek and Dragoneer Investment Group, with participation from the existing investors. And all of these investments had happened in February 2019 alone.

Picture Credit: KeepTruckin

In April, KeepTruckin, a San Francisco, CA-based fleet management company that connects the world’s trucks, secured $149m in Series D bringing its total funding to $228m. Another company, Nautilus Labs, one of the best and most forward-looking maritime logistics startups, which develops an automated vessel performance analysis solution secured $11m to boost AI development in Series A funding.

Read the Interview with Nautilus Labs…

In addition to that, an on-demand warehousing and fulfillment technology company Flowspace raised $12M in Series A. The new capital enabled the startup to advance its cloud software platform, expand the network, and accelerate growth. Yet another example of an impressive investment is Convoy, a Seattle-based digital freight booker backed by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, which closed a $400 million funding round to expand the use of its data platform and other services that reduce wasted time, empty trailers and tailpipe pollution for truckers.

Furthermore, the Self-Driving startup Embark raised $70 Million, its biggest investment round to date, bringing its total investment to $117 million, including the latest round. Embark is also opening the first cargo transfer hubs for its growing fleet of robotic semis. The first transfer hubs, resembling enclosed parking lots built to accommodate semi-trucks, have been set up outside Los Angeles and in Phoenix. And the last but not the least, with an initial public offering on the horizon already in 2020, food-delivery app Postmates raised another $225 million. This round of funding moved Postmate’s total funding to $1 billion and its pre-valuation at $2.4 billion.

While some of the logistics sector players were receiving fresh funds, others were acquired. The best example of that is Shopify, the leading multi-channel commerce platform, acquiring 6 River Systems, a leading provider of collaborative warehouse fulfillment solutions. The purchase price was expected to be around $450 million. The transaction added 6 River Systems’ cloud-based software and fleet of collaborative mobile robots called “Chuck” to the Shopify Fulfillment Network, accelerating its growth.

Picture Credit: Deutsche Post DHL Group

However, it is also worth mentioning that the biggest logistics players are investing in their own future at the same pace as VC Funds. Deutsche Post DHL Group unveiled its new Group Strategy – “Strategy 2025 – Delivering excellence in a digital world”. According to the logistics giant, the company will be focusing even more consistently on harnessing the sustained potential for profitable long-term growth. Furthermore, it will be stepping up the digital transformation of the Group that is already underway in all business divisions. Until 2025, the Group is set to spend around EUR 2 billion on digitalization.

On the other side of the world, Alibaba Group announced an additional investment of US$3.3 billion to increase its equity stake in Cainiao Smart Logistics Network from approximately 51% to approximately 63%. Prior to that, Cainiao had also developed robust international and cross-border fulfillment solutions to facilitate Alibaba’s international e-commerce business, including Tmall Global, AliExpress and Lazada.

Amazon – the Elephant in the Logistics Room

Amazon Scout

The article about the best Logistics Technology News would not be complete without mentioning that Amazon was strengthening its logistics positions in 2019. However, to round up the shape in which Amazon enters 2020, here are some of the most outstanding announcements from the e-commerce giant.

The company had started the previous year with the test of a new fully-electric delivery system – Amazon Scout, which is designed to safely get packages to customers using small autonomous delivery vehicles. According to Amazon, the robots are developed in-house and are aimed to drive along sidewalks at a walking pace.

In June, Amazon announced new robotics products heading to its hundreds of fulfillment centers around the world. The first product is a robotic palletizer that has now lifted much more than two billion pounds of totes across Amazon’s hundreds of fulfillment centers. In addition to that, in an effort to improve the speed and reliability of package sorting, the company had been rolling out a new sorting system — Pegasus — that had already cut down mis-sorted goods by 50%, all while preserving the safety features of the existing drive system.

Amazon Prime Air’s New Delivery Drone

However, robots are not the only strong side of innovation at Amazon – it has also been going strong with the drones. The new generation of Amazon drones had been unveiled at Amazon’s re:MARS Conference in Las Vegas receiving advances in efficiency, stability and, most importantly, safety. One of the outstanding aspects of the new unmanned aircraft is a hybrid design.

The drone can do vertical takeoffs and landings – like a helicopter. And it’s efficient and aerodynamic – like an airplane. It also easily transitions between these two modes – from vertical-mode to airplane mode, and back to vertical mode. According to Amazon, they are using the latest AI technologies to ensure the highest level of safety during its movement.

If you think that robots and drones are small for the huge scale of Amazon’s business, there is something bigger which company is also heavily investing in – its branded vehicles. Amazon had started rolling out branded tractors manufactured by Volvo and Kenworth to continue its path of becoming a full-fledged trucking company. According to Business Insider, it is a clear sign that Amazon might start directly employing truck drivers — which is a noticeable move from contracting with independent truck drivers and small companies.

Another exciting announcement coming from the e-commerce giant was the partnership with Rivian, an electric vehicle startup that took a $700 million investment from the online retailer, is going to make 100,000 electric delivery vans for them. According to the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, the company will deploy the e-vans between 2021 and 2024.

All of these moves were building up to Amazon strengthening its positions as a logistics company. However, the company did not forget about the sustainability of its modernization. In September, Amazon and Global Optimism announced The Climate Pledge, a commitment to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early. Amazon is the first signatory of this pledge. The Climate Pledge calls on signatories to be net-zero carbon across their businesses by 2040—a decade ahead of the Paris Agreement’s goal of 2050.

As a part of this commitment, the e-commerce giant is set to invest in wind and solar to reach 100% renewable energy across all business operations by 2030. In addition to that, the company is planning to make all Amazon shipments net-zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero carbon by 2030. If you are wondering about Amazon’s vision for the future, check out the article below:

Amazon: Most Impressive and Futuristic Logistics Patents

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