Artificial intelligence has penetrated virtually every aspect of modern life, and last-mile delivery is no exception, says Bart De Muynck, chief industry officer with project 44.
Artificial intelligence is hardly new — the term was coined some 70 years ago — but the concept has evolved over the years to incorporate a surprising number of modern-day devices and applications. That’s especially true in the case of last-mile delivery, which poses “incredible challenges” arising from surging consumer demand, higher costs, labor shortages in the warehouse and over the road, lack of truck capacity and the difficulties of guaranteeing service times.
Where AI comes into the picture is in the ability to provide people with tools that lead to greater visibility and insights into the complex process of last-mile delivery, De Muynck says. In the process, humans can “do the job better, handle more volume, and have a better work-life job balance.”
Even as AI-driven robots replace some jobs in the warehouse, the need for human talent is more important than ever. Automation can handle “mundane, routine” tasks, while freeing up people to do more complex and interesting work. But that requires a new level of training by employers.
AI is also valuable in helping retailers and service providers predict demand, even though the peak season in 2022 presented some unique challenges, with consumer behavior extremely hard to foresee. Nevertheless, AI and machine learning can make it possible to achieve more accurate forecasts of the need for capacity and inventory, De Muynck says.
A “smart” system, of course, is only as good as the data that flows into it, but De Muynck says some cutting-edge AI systems can output decisions with little or no data at all. “It isn’t constrained by previous behavior,” he says. “Sometimes having no notion of the past liberates you to thinking differently.”
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