The direction the big logistics companies are moving towards for their R&D is split between drone delivery and autonomous technology investments. We explore how each are developing in the industry.

Earlier this week, FedEx revealed its interest in using autonomous vehicles to make deliveries. FedEx’s chief information officer Rob Carter, says the company is considering using small robot vehicles that could drive around neighbourhoods and make deliveries on their own. The company has partnered with Peloton Technology to achieve this goal, firmly believing this path will be the future of package delivery.

Competitors such as UPS and Amazon disagree. They have spent the last few years developing their own aerial delivery drone programs. Their aim is to have packages reach their destination through the air, instead of on the road.

Flying to New Heights

The idea of delivery drones was initially met with disbelief when Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon initially unveiled the technology back in 2013. After a long approval process, Amazon finally received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct trial runs in early 2015. The approval was likely a response to the Chinese online giant Alibaba, a major competitor, conducting its own drone delivery tests.

This event led the way for other companies to develop their own drone delivery programs, and experts weighing in on the potential benefits.

“Allowing drones to be flown for business purposes in the U.S. may produce $100 million or more in economic benefits” says Bloomberg writer Alan Levin, reporting on a FAA document. Enhanced delivery speed and eco-friendliness are other benefits expected from these programs.

Critics have been vocal about cons as well. Namely, in the areas of privacy, potential for theft of packages and the drone itself, and public safety.

Amazon conducted its first delivery through its drone program late last year. Whether the pros or cons win out is now a matter of waiting and seeing.

Driving Towards New Delivery Solutions

FedEx isn’t the first big business to invest in autonomous technology, far from it. Intel for example, is expected to have $1 billion invested in this field by 2020. Uber has jumped onboard with its acquirement of Otto, the company responsible for the successful testing of self-driving tracker trailers.

However, Carter is promising that FedEx’s program will have several distinct advantages over drones. For starters, the vans are expected to be more energy efficient than their aerial counterparts. The maximum cargo delivery limit is also greater. Finally, ground vehicles won’t have to content with the FAA for regulations and flight path approval for urban areas.

Peloton Technology’s current semi-autonomous technology isn’t far off from FedEx’s goal. It can electronically link trucks into small caravan groups called platoons. The lead truck can then control the brakes and gas of the convoy, lowering wind resistance and saving fuel.

Logistics is a multi-trillion-dollar global industry. FedEx is betting of self-driving robots as the future of cargo delivery. Given the company’s size, that’s 220 countries whose way of receiving parcels and movement of large fleets would be affected. Time will tell if FedEx’s robots will be able to streamline, automate and accelerate the supply-chain industry.

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The long road to commercially available autonomous cars is almost at an end. A number of things will be changing when that happens. Chief among the changes is the way automotive manufacturers invest and sell their products.

What separates an autonomous car from a regular car is the onboard computer. Behind that technology are companies such as Intel, Qualcomm Inc. And Nvidia Corp. which provides the chips necessary for the computing power. Cars will need to be turned into essentially mobile data centers meaning that the competition for the future of autonomous cars isn’t only among car manufactures. It’ll also be with and between the world’s largest biggest tech companies.

There’s Big Business in Little Parts

As we approach the final lap on the course towards autonomous cars, automotive manufacturers have already started to change their sale tactics. Where manufacturers used to talk about horsepower, they’ve now started talking about processing power.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg, the total value of automotive supplier deals in 2015 and 2016 were $74.4 billion. For some context, each of those years far exceeded the $17.7 billion annual average of the previous 10 years.
“The number of transactions valued at $500 million or more also skyrocket to 18 last year, triple the level of the previous decade” writes Elisabeth Behrmann, Polina Noskova, and Aaron Kirchfeld from the same Bloomberg article. “There have been 11 such deals so far this year.”

An example is Intel. Its automotive business is currently involved in 30 vehicle programs on the road. By 2020, the company is set to increase that number to 49 with orders worth $1 billion according to the Wall Street Journal.

Many of the deals are still done with makers of powertrain and chassis components. However, electronics-related acquisitions are growing the fastest. Some estimates have the cost of electronics in car manufacturing growing to 50% by 2030, up from around 30% in 2015. A portion of resources have also gone into securing the proper know-how to ensure that their cars have the necessary sensors, cameras, radar, and computing power necessary to safety assess traffic conditions and see their environment as a driver would.

Phone to Pocket PC, Car to Mobile Entertainment Hub

One of the biggest innovations over the last two decades has been in finding new uses for old products. TVs grew ‘smart’, watches and shoes graduated into personal trainers, and cell phones evolved into pocket PCs. Today’s new technology is sold with the promises of greater efficiency and consolidation. Autonomous cars will be no different.

For as useful as cars are in our everyday lives, they spend close to 95% of the time unused. This means there is a big opportunity for the manufacturers of autonomous cars. Captive consumers will be surrounded by the technology for an average of at least five hours a week. The challenge will not just be how to commercially manufacture autonomous cars, but also in building a platform that connects software developers with the passengers.

As Nokia and Blackberry demonstrated in the past, consumers need more than just an effective product. They also need their devices to consolidate their consumption of media.

That’s it for us this week! If you liked this blog post, why not subscribe to our blog? If you’re interested in what we do as a 3rd party logistics provider, don’t hesitate to check out our services (as expressed above, we are very pro finding you the lowest total cost!). We’re also in the twittersphere, so give us a follow to get the latest logistics and supply chain news.