August 20, 2014
Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki, looking west.
The streets of Helsinki will soon see driverless cars mix  with other modes of transport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time we looked at automated vehicle delivery, it involved a courier using GPS to locate a car’s coordinates for order drop off. So not really that automated at all, except for the location and scheduling part.

When it comes to using driverless vehicles for transport planning, however, we’re firmly at the automated end of the equation.

While still a long way off, we already see the technology ready to roll for driverless vehicles. Google’s work in the field has been news for some time, but an ambitious transport project underway in Finland will certainly have the eyes of the world watching, as Helsinki aims to connect up all forms of transport for a seamless, shared transit experience.

The project is sublime in its simple objective, yet unimaginably complex in the underlying logistics. Helsinki will attempt to integrate all forms of transport, old and new, manned and unmanned, into a single app, designed to connect origin and destination with the most efficient route. If that involves connecting up an old bus with a new, shared-use driverless car, all the better.

The theory underpinning all this is that schedules are known, moving parts can now be tracked thanks to geo-location devices, and our own location can be flagged in the same way. By connecting all three and applying some smart algorithms underneath, the optimum route can be calculated based on speed, expense, or any other parameter that matters to the person making the journey.

The parallels and potential applications for driverless, mode-agnostic transport planning in the supply chain are many.

Consider just how similar the proposed system in Helsinki is to solve the challenge that transport planners face every day. It’s often as simple as getting from A to B, but there are hundreds of considerations en route that make actually scheduling the moving parts incredibly complex. Managing this complexity is at the heart of logistics, and any help that technology can offer along the way is warmly received.

A transport planning team with mobile access to an app that calculates the complex variables of their industry gains a significant competitive advantage. The clearest immediate gains are the time saved on factoring in these influences manually to come up with an optimal route. Subsequent spin-off wins could include new transport opportunities being flagged, increased adoption of intermodal transport solutions, and reduced training costs as less-experienced employees can be brought up to speed on complex systems in a shorter time frame.

Furthermore, it’s easy to see an entire industry popping up alongside this sort of software, providing customization for the unique transport challenges of each business and helping managers navigate the roll out of such systems. Service providers already exist across the realm of warehouse management systems and freight transit tracking, so it would be no great leap to say that a support system would be required for automated transport planning.

Overall, it’s another reason to keep your finger on the pulse of technology and watch those newswires. Or you could just continue to follow this blog and watch our Facebook / Twitter / Google+ feeds… we’re here to keep you moving!