Drones, Robots, and Self Driving Vehicles, Part III: Evolving with Technology

by Matthew Wittemeier

I want to start part three with the exact paragraph that I ended part two on, as it is really important to reiterate. Reading these posts, it would be easy to believe that humans have no place in the future of parcel logistics - but this couldn't be further from the truth. The future will see a shift in the roles and responsibilities of humans. After all, robots are only good at doing what they are programmed to do. In this third and final installment, I’m going to take a closer look at how existing systems, processes, and the role of people will be changed by drones, robots, and self-driving technologies.


Technology in general is an enabler of new ways of doing business. The systems of post and parcel centers will evolve in the future from a disparate network of interconnected hubs into a centralized ecosystem that isn’t physically tied to any single hub. Core system processes will be managed from a central location with remote presence at each individual hub location.

By centralizing and interconnecting the physical and technological systems, operators will open the door to streamlined decision-making, improved efficiency, and increased flexibility. Knowing more will enable a better quality of decision-making. By taking as many factors as possible into consideration, planning and execution will improve. Decisions that adversely impact the broader ecosystem will be known in real-time and their effects can be planned for, and in many cases, mitigated, leading to an overall improvement in system efficiency. Finally, the dynamic networks of the future will require “light local infrastructure” to enable resilience in the network model. A dynamic model only works if the effort to remain dynamic is minimal.  


The processes of the future will need to be more dynamic, too. This is a counterintuitive point as drones, robots, and self-driving cars are currently prone to failure in unpredictable situations. However, as autonomous technologies continue to evolve, so too will the range of processes that these technologies are exposed to; in no uncertain terms, the technology will become smarter and better able to respond to unforeseen circumstances on its own. It is in this point that I make my case for more dynamic processes for the future. Technology will reach a point where it can make decisions on its own within parameters of acceptable operation that lead to a positive outcome. The processes of the future will need to move from mostly rigid “if this, then that” models to ones focused on goals achieved through acceptable operational parameters.


Humans will not be replaced in the future. However, how they approach traditional roles will need to change. The roles that humans fill in the future will be quite different. Instead of delivery drivers and dispatchers we’re more likely to see technicians and strategists.  

The brief history that autonomous technologies have forged so far shows us that the KPIs used to measure success have changed. Autonomous technologies’ success has been measured by “mean time between failures”. Technology fails and we don’t have robots to fix other robots (yet). That said, the mechanics of the future will need to be as savvy with computer debugging as they are with a wrench.

As drones, robots, and self-driving vehicles enable an ever-increasing customer specific experience, the way we view and measure success will evolve. Dispatchers will move from managing the mundane to orchestrating a strategy that aims to achieve a new era of KPIs that are increasingly customer centric, in a way that enables individualized experiences and customer journeys.

In the mid-term, one will find a plethora of technology related roles opening up in post and parcel organizations: everything from traditional roles in system and network administration through to more modern roles including data analysts and cyber-security experts.

The Journey Has Already Begun

In this three part series I’ve looked at what drones, robots, and self-driving technologies can achieve, what their collective impact might be in an industry that is constantly changing, and how that industry might have to evolve to better enable these changes to happen. One could easily dismiss this series as optimistic or futuristic. But the simple fact of the matter is: the journey has already begun.

Operators all over the world are embracing these technologies and they are embracing the promises of the digital future. It will be the operators who choose to define that future that benefit the most. Technological innovation enables the first movers and early adapters to define the customer experiences of tomorrow that all operators will be measured against.

Do you see a different future for how technology will impact and change the parcel industry?

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About the author

  • Matthew Wittemeier

    Matthew Wittemeier is Director Marketing and Sales at INFORM's Terminal & Distribution Center Logistics Division where he’s become a thought-provoking contributor to many industry publications and conferences. He’s also co-author of the award winning 2038: A Smart Port Story - a story about the future of technology and the social challenges it may bring.

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