Robots in Logistics; where do we fit in?

  • Robots in Logistics; where do we fit in?

In recent years a number of eminent figures from the world of academia and industry have made predictions about how the world of work will look in years to come as robots become mainstream and one thing's for sure; it paints a dark picture for us humans. We might find ourselves twiddling our thumbs a bit more...

The number one prediction is that robots will take over jobs (by 2050 up to 70% of all jobs currently performed by humans) and become people's bosses. I recommend arming yourself with a pair of pliers when you ask for a pay increase.

But how will logistics be affected? We all know about vehicle automation but apparently the technology could quickly lead to humans being BANNED from driving. As a driving enthusiast I'd be pretty devastated, but as a professional I guess it makes sense to eliminate the vulnerabilities of humans (remember the majority of accidents are due to human error) and to improve road safety through the speed of vehicle processors and the subsequent transformation of infrastructure. Automated vehicles will crisscross the oceans, skies and railways so ships will be unmanned, drone technology will scale up to carry heavier loads and the tracks and interchanges will be fully automated as a result of cross-border collaboration. Warehouses will be fully autonomous (some already are) and supply chain decisions will be the sole right of robots.

As I said at the start, quite a depressing picture isn't it? However, I think there's hope because we've still got a long way to go and, more importantly, there's still a question over whether robots could ever make an emotive or impulsive decision; something that's key to successful business deals the world over.

In the meantime we need to address some crucial points;

1.    How can human workers trust their robotic counterparts? Well, the starting point must be total transparency from top to bottom. Time and again suspicion is raised about corporate motives through a lack of information or clarity from the decision-makers; keep your staff involved and onside. Also involve worker representatives such as unions and associations. We've seen technology such as dashcams and telematics lead to resistence on the part of unions, so organisations should create a 'no spy' commitment and stick to it; privacy and data management will be even more important if a human worker thinks they're being spied on by their robotic colleague.

2.    Is it possible to reduce the fear factor of losing your job? Robots are an aid; not a replacement. It will take a long time for robots to truly replace humans; new and existing workers will need some assurance that they're the one in charge and that robots should be considered 'the hired help'.

3.    Understanding and awareness. Keep your workers tech-savvy. In this case familiarity breeds confidence, so if a worker understands how a robot works then it becomes less intimating and the more they're likely to trust the actions of their metal mate.

There's no doubt about it. This new industrial revolution will totally change the landscape of work for everyone but it's essential for organisations to start planning ahead and anticipating a working environment where robots and humans will be colleagues and peers; not rivals. Transparency not secrecy, inclusion not instruction.