AMTA CEO Louise Hyland explains how 5G technology can accelerate the development and adoption of innovative transport and logistics capability.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian transport and logistics sector was tested in ways no one could have anticipated as the associated protection measures were introduced.
Much like telecommunications, where connectivity became a lifeline, so too did the transport and logistics industry find itself at the heart of a core human need as the prevention of mobility meant that access to products (staples through to luxury) were restricted.
Again, similar to telecommunications, this has led to elevated consumer expectations of the transport and logistics industry when we consider meeting shorter timeframes, more specific forecasting and greater transparency around the status of goods being transported.
Australia’s telecommunications infrastructure was crucial to meeting this need, but its success has set a new bar for consumer expectation which the transport and logistics industry will need to not only meet but exceed.
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has identified five ways that the reduced lag time, faster speeds and increased capacity of the 5G network can unlock significant opportunities for the transport and logistics industry. 5G will enable the industry to be more efficient and sustainable, and ensure it is well placed to tap into this potential with new innovations and technology that will enhance consumer experience while paving the way for a more connected future.
- Automated vehicles
Supported by 5G’s unparalleled low lag time, automated vehicles including cars, trucks, trains and drones will make freight and passenger transport safer and more efficient. 5G will also improve the reliability of last-kilometre travel – the last leg of a product or passenger’s journey – and so-called “vehicle-to-everything communication”, including communication between vehicles and the traffic system, across both commercial and public systems.
In Australia, Qube is already installing 5G communications to link automated cargo vehicles at Moorebank Logistics Park (MLP) to the fleet management and safety system, with the low latency and high reliability of 5G used to create safe and reliable operations.
HMI Technologies Australia is also trialing 5G technology to help operate Automated Shuttle Vehicles (ASVs) to provide enhanced mobility for disabled and elderly passengers for first and last-kilometre travel – the missing link in current public transport ecosystems.
2. VR and AR support
5G’s greater speed and high capacity will improve the integration of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications across transport and logistics businesses.
5G-powered VR and AR will be used to train employees, providing immersive and ultra-realistic experiences without impacting day-to-day operations. Through 5G, AR applications like “vision picking” – which involves displaying order information to warehouse staff through head-mounted displays – will be enhanced.
Machine and vehicle maintenance will also become more efficient, with offsite technicians able to assist workers using AR headsets to monitor in first person and real time the status of their fleet. Through the instant connectivity and low latency that 5G brings to VR and AR, the transport and logistics industry will become more efficient and productive, while supply chains will become more efficient as transport and logistics interact more seamlessly and with less need for hands-on trafficking of data.
There are already advanced types of AR and VR technology in development, like Microsoft’s Mesh, which could be harnessed by the industry in the future. However, while highly advanced AR and VR-enabled technologies exist now, in a 5G-enabled world, these will become much more mainstream as the availability of network connections makes these technologies more accessible and directly utilitarian.
3. Connected robot
Leveraging 5G’s fast connectivity, increased capacity and more reliable broadband, connected robots and collaborative robots – or “cobots” – will significantly change the way tasks are carried out across the supply chain. These will help workers with warehousing operations and enhance safety by reducing the need for people to physically carry out injury-risking or challenging tasks, like repetitive lifting.
UTS and Nokia Australia have been working together to explore ways in which 5G and edge computing technology can be harnessed to make robots better co-workers. The “5G Connected Cobot” project aims to build the next generation of robots that will be able to better navigate a changing environment and interact with people.
Ericsson has also recently looked to 5G to trial extending the range of Boston Dynamics’ four-legged mobile robot “Spot”, to allow it to patrol the perimeter of Hans Christian Andersen Airport in Denmark, showcasing the opportunity for autonomous robots.
4. Smart factories and warehouses
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value to be gained through greater automation in smart factories and warehouses. 5G’s high capacity will enable multiple assembly lines, machines and assets to connect through the industrial internet of things (IIoT) so operations can be monitored and optimised.
Using AI powered by 5G, workers will also be able to implement predictive planning, which will increase the efficiency of assembly lines and warehouse inventory management, including just-in-time (JIT) delivery, so companies can receive parts and goods as close as possible to when these are actually needed.
In Germany, DHL has been trialling a system within their warehouses that uses IoT technologies connected through 5G to help them build an accurate, real-time map of activities so they can optimise operations. Ericsson has also established smart factories in Sweden, Estonia and China which use 5G and IIoT systems to connect nearly every asset in the factory to improve traceability of inventory, dispatch services and maintenance accordingly, and ultimately improve end-to-end efficiency.
5. Goods tracking
Tracking technologies are not new with short-range technologies, including radio-frequency identification (RFID) and optical codes being used for years. However, the billions of connections that will be supported through 5G means 5G-connected trackers will make a difference in improving the tracking of the location and condition of goods in real time throughout every aspect of a supply chain, making delivery more efficient and resilient.
This will allow transport and logistics companies to provide accurate real-time updates on delivery progress at any time, not just at a few key checkpoints and also mitigate problems like delivery delays or cold storage faults.
In Australia, Peloris Global Sourcing is already using IoT technology to monitor the location and temperature of milk being exported to China to ensure compliance and rapid border clearance and through 5G, this technology could become more readily used across the entire industry.
With the continued rollout of 5G across the country and the world, the transport and logistics industry will rapidly change over the next decade. It will not only become more efficient and reliable, but it also has the opportunity to become more profitable, with less human error, mismanagement and inefficiencies.
Louise Hyland is the CEO of telecommunications industry association AMTA.