Are au­tonomous ve­hi­cles on lo­cal roads the fu­ture?

New Straits Times - - Business -

AC­CORD­ING to Reuters, Chi­nese ecom­merce gi­ant Alibaba Group Hold­ings plans to set up a re­gional distribution hub within KLIA Aeropo­lis in Sepang to cater to its fast-grow­ing busi­ness in South­east Asia.

Sepang is an at­trac­tive lo­ca­tion for an e-com­merce re­gional distribution cen­tre due its strong re­gional net­work as well as its lo­ca­tion next to Port Klang, one of Asia’s largest sea­ports.

Prod­ucts from all over the world are brought in by sea to Port Klang, trans­ported by road to this hub, and based on cus­tomer or­der sent by road and air to its fi­nal des­ti­na­tion.

The back­bone of an e-com­merce distribution net­work is good road trans­port. E-com­merce trans­port needs both long haul trans­port as well as fine distribution into ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas.

Al­though Malaysia has cheap petrol, trucks and vans are labour in­ten­sive and a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to green­house gas emis­sions. There­fore, the fu­ture of e-com­merce distribution will move to­wards au­tonomous ve­hi­cles.

Road tests have started with semi-au­to­mated trucks and fully au­tonomous ve­hi­cles. What are some key de­vel­op­ments?

Last year, Europe started a truck pla­toon­ing chal­lenge, where DAF Trucks, Daim­ler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Trucks and Bus, Sca­nia and Volvo Group, drove semi-au­to­mated trucks in pla­toons, on pub­lic roads from sev­eral Euro­pean cities to the Nether­lands. In truck pla­toon­ing, two or three ve­hi­cles, us­ing radar and global po­si­tion­ing satel­lite tech­nol­ogy, are con­nected via WiFi.

The first truck de­ter­mines the speed and route. The next trucks fol­low at short dis­tance. Thanks to the WiFi con­nec­tion be­tween trucks, trucks break at the same time, avoid­ing any shockwaves in traf­fic.

Trucks drive close be­hind one an­other to utilise the road bet­ter and save time, fuel and emis­sions. The re­sults were promis­ing. Emis­sion were re­duced by 20 per cent. The dis­tance be­tween the trucks is op­ti­mised to re­duce air drag, re­duc­ing fuel con­sump­tion by 10 per cent.

Six com­pa­nies, the port of An­twerp and the city of Meche­len in Bel­gium just started a re­search project on au­tonomous lo­gis­tics ve­hi­cles for cities.

This project needs to find an­swers on ques­tions such as: where will th­ese au­tonomous elec­tric ve­hi­cles drive? Can they be used only in the city or even in sub­urbs?

Will they also en­ter traf­fic-free zones? Are the only used for par­cel de­liv­er­ies or even for larger ship­ments? How are they de­ployed and what data is needed to con­trol th­ese ve­hi­cles?

China plans to build the world’s largest au­tonomous driv­ing test zone this year in the south-east­ern city of Zhangzhou in Fu­jian prov­ince. The project in­volves build­ing au­tonomous driv­ing in­fras­truc­ture, in­clud­ing traf­fic signs, in a 56 sq km area in Zhangzhou’s eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment zone.

The zone will be­come a real-life lab for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles.

Ford pre­sented a few weeks ago dur­ing the Mo­bile World Congress in Barcelona the con­cept of “Au­to­liv­ery”, elec­tric self­driv­ing vans used to­gether with drones to pick up and drop off goods and pack­ages in ur­ban ar­eas. This elim­i­nates the need for de­liv­ery driv­ers and work­ers.

The drones can be used for lo­ca­tions where the van can­not reach. Ford plans to have its fleet on the road shut­tling pack­ages to peo­ple in 2021.

Au­tonomous ve­hi­cles are thus around the corner. To make Malaysia the pre­ferred e-com­merce hub of Asia, it is crit­i­cal to make mod­erni­sa­tion of road trans­port and in­no­va­tions in city lo­gis­tics a top pri­or­ity.

The writer is founder and CEO of LBB In­ter­na­tional, which pro­vides lo­gis­tics di­ag­nos­tics, sup­ply chain de­sign and so­lu­tions and market re­search in Asia, Europe and the Mid­dle East.

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