Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been touted as the transformative technology that will usher in the next generation of the logistics industry. While AI is already established in consumer tech, demonstrated by the plethora of virtual assistants, just how does AI work and how might it benefit the airfreight industry?

What is artificial intelligence?

AI simulates the human intelligence process by using complex algorithms and computer systems to acquire information, reach conclusions and solve problems. To make this work, AI requires building block technologies including big data and analytics and the internet of things which have all become highly technical and specialised technologies in their own right.

Data crunch

For logistics to work most efficiently, the entire supply chain needs to generate a rich stream of data which can then be collected, analysed and used to optimise productivity. AI systems are able to both process far greater volumes of data than humans and better detect patterns and gain insights from the data.

Emu analytics in action.

This advantage is most clearly demonstrated in a busy environment like Heathrow Airport where, despite giant amounts of data generated, humans can struggle to analyse all of the information and improve the efficiency of their operations. We’ve partnered with Emu Analytics whose intuitive software processes and visualises data generated by airside vehicles at an airport. The software provides real-time insights into where airport vehicles are along cargo routes and how they’re performing, helping to identify route inefficiencies. The software can even tell users information about the state of each cargo vehicle, helping to improve maintenance schedules and reduce breakdowns.

The future is (almost) here

Of course, no conversation about AI is complete without mentioning robotics. While they may sound like a futuristic concept, the rise of e-commerce means the logistics industry needs to operate faster and more efficiently round-the-clock. In this new dynamic, robots will become essential to keeping the supply chain operational and, with 80%[1] of today’s warehouses still manually operated, the adoption of robotics is set to take off. Within a warehouse, robotics can then assist with receiving and unloading goods to packing and shipping.

AI-powered robotics are also beginning to be used in the transportation of goods through autonomous trucks. One example of this trend came at Heathrow in 2018 when IAG Cargo, in partnership with Oxbotica – a UK company specialising in self-driving software – launched the first test of a self-driving vehicle at a UK airport. Oxbotica’s robo-truck spent over three weeks travelling along the airside perimeter, collecting over 200km of data used to make cargo management and handling more efficient. It might not be long before self-driving trucks are moving cargo all the way from runway to warehouse.

81% of freight forwarders expect technologies to have a positive effect on their business. Find out what 440 freight forwarders in 47 countries believe is coming next for the industry in this exclusive report.