The world of logistics that changes with autonomous driving

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2020 is a year in which expectations are rising that vehicles equipped with autonomous driving level 3 will finally be implemented in the automobile industry. The development of such autonomous driving technology may significantly change the way the logistics industry should be.

The current logistics industry has a severe labor shortage.

According to the “FY2018 Transportation Trends” released by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, trucks transport 87% of Japan’s annual domestic freight traffic. It can be seen that trucks support logistics. However, the current situation in which we have to rely on logistics more than before, such as mail-order sales via the Internet, accelerates a severe truck driver shortage.

One of the reasons for truck drivers’ labor shortage is the working environment, such as “long-term restraint” and “low wages.” As a general rule, the operating hours of truck drivers set by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare are up to 13 hours a day, and it is permitted to extend them to 16 hours depending on the situation. Also, detention for 15 hours or more is limited to twice a week. However, this condition is overwhelmingly longer than the eight-hour working hours provided by a typical company. Besides, mail-order companies are increasingly claiming “free shipping,” It has been pointed out that the squeeze of improving services for consumers is also affecting driver wages.

Also, the 2007 revision of the Road Traffic Act has made it possible for trucks of the size that could be driven with an ordinary driver’s license to be required to have a medium-sized driver’s license, which is one of the factors that support the labor shortage. In 2018, a further amendment was to establish a “quasi-medium-sized driver’s license” that even young people who get a license for the first time can obtain, unlike a medium-sized driver’s license. However, this amendment requires a permit to be obtained according to the classification, which raises the hurdle in cost.

Expected from the introduction of autonomous driving

If one driver disappears, naturally, one truck that can operate for 13 to 16 hours will not be able to move. Despite a large amount of work per driver, autonomous driving technology is attracting attention to solving the logistics industry’s problems, continually suffering from labor shortages. The automated driving technology adopted in Japan and overseas is called “driving support,” and it has not reached fully automated driving.

However, automobile manufacturers and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism aim to implement “autonomous driving level 3”, which performs limited automatic driving in 2020, and expectations are rising for further technological development. Therefore, we will introduce the concrete effects of incorporating autonomous driving technology into the logistics industry.

Solving the shortage of drivers with self-driving trucks

Self-driving trucks can solve the shortage of drivers. Fully autonomous driving technology that does not require drivers is expected to be a long way off, but systems that support the logistics industry are still under development. For example, a platooning system in which several uncrewed trucks follow a truck driven by one driver is scheduled to undergo a demonstration experiment on the Shin Tomei Expressway in 2020.

If one truck driver could simultaneously transport three tracks, the workload could be reduced to one-third, and the reduced labor costs could be reflected in benefits and salaries. Besides, even if driving is not entirely automatic, if automatic driving is realized in limited areas such as highways, the burden on drivers who drive long distances can be significantly reduced. The harsh working environment is one factor that leads to drowsy driving, but if these technologies can improve the working environment, it can be expected to improve safety.

Improvement of work efficiency

Although drones have already been put into practical use in photography and surveying. In particular, the movement to utilize it at home delivery sites is accelerating, and transport by drones will not only solve the labor shortage, but it will not be affected by traffic conditions. Furthermore, since you can fly to your destination in the shortest distance, you can expect an overwhelming work efficiency improvement. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism is also considering using drones in the logistics industry in earnest. In 2020, we improved the environment so that drones can be operated even in operating areas such as urban areas.

Toward the full-scale implementation of such drone technology, Rakuten experimentally provided a drone delivery service “Sora Raku” at a golf course for a month. The “Sora Raku” service has not yet been delivered to the general public. Still, we continue to carry out limited-time projects such as home delivery to remote islands to realize it.

Problems caused by the introduction of autonomous driving

Autonomous driving technology will brighten the future of logistics, but it is not always a good thing. If autonomous driving is introduced in earnest, it is feared that while the labor shortage will be resolved, many drivers will lose their jobs simultaneously. It is estimated that 1% of the working population will lose their positions in the United States, and it is thought that employment problems will occur in Japan as well.

There may also be legal issues. While autonomous driving technology is advancing day by day, there is an aspect that traditional development is not catching up. Currently, in Japan, only driving up to level 2 of autonomous driving technology is permitted, and the goal is to be allowed to drive at level 3 in 2020. 

Although autonomous driving technology can be a significant clue to solving the logistics industry’s problems, it is necessary to consider that its implementation will entirely cause new truck driving school issues.

Summary

For the logistics industry, which is suffering from chronic labor shortages, smart driving such as autonomous driving is expected to solve all problems. Indeed, it is likely that the human burden will be significantly reduced by improving warehouse work efficiency and trucks’ automatic operation. Still, we must also pay attention to the possibility of new problems.

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