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First steps towards self-organizing logistics

Automation and robotization are on the rise. These technologies are set to change the logistics sector drastically. Once everything has been equipped with sensors – from infrastructures to vehicles and the packages they carry – the opportunities will grow exponentially. Flows of goods by road, water, rail and air will form a seamlessly connected logistics system that is more efficient, creates new business opportunities and significantly reduces the output of CO₂.

As logistics processes – planning, storage, transhipment, distribution and transport at all levels in the chain – become more automated and autonomous, and more local information becomes available, the next essential step will be self-organizing logistics. TNO is not developing new technologies itself – the market is quite capable of doing this – but is instead focusing on the organization of the chain, encouraging new forms of cooperation and, most importantly, conducting experiments that show companies how logistics innovations can already be applied in practice today. This includes the automation of road transport such as truck platooning, but also autonomous transport by rail and inland shipping routes, and Internet of Things technology.

Packages choose the most logical route themselves

Traditional in-advance route planning using trucks and vans will be replaced by dynamic planning based on real-time information. Instead of the dispatcher or driver choosing the most logical route, the packages, which are fitted with sensors and communicate through intelligent self-learning systems, will find the best way to the destination themselves.

Intelligent self-learning system

The systems know the location of the vehicle, ship, train or airplane and which goods need to go to which destination, so that they can adapt the route or the means of transport at any time. If there is congestion, a waterway is blocked, the weather suddenly changes or the recipient of the goods changes the requirements, the system can immediately calculate the consequences and offer the fastest, most affordable and most logical alternative.

New earning models through self-organizing logistics

For example, we are currently preparing an experiment with a logistics company to make delivering packages from distribution centres to customers using vans more efficient and sustainable. Here too, self-organization is the key word. Not only do we want to organize this more efficiently within the company, we also want to apply the experiment to other parties in the chain. For example, this could involve the vehicles of delivery companies and web shops exchanging packages along their routes. This will lead to new earning models that we will develop together with the participating companies.

From time wasted to time profitably spent

Now that a vision has been developed for companies in the logistics sector and ideas have been fleshed out which they can use to optimize their processes, the next step for TNO is to accelerate the required innovations through practical experiments (living labs). This step is not defined by the logistics sector itself, but rather by the customer. No longer will the carrier decide which is the most efficient route for them. Instead, the goods themselves will determine the fastest route to the customer. The time that is currently wasted during the transport process will become time profitably spent. The Netherlands is in a position to play a leading role in this process by developing new systems, testing these in practice and combining them with other innovations we are already leading the way in, such as autonomous vehicles and ships and truck platooning.

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