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Maglev trains, driverless trucks, delivery drones –supply chain dreaming or reality

The development of new transport technology could undermine traditional forms of freight transport, according to speakers at last week’s eft 3PL summit in Amsterdam. The rise of 3D printing has led some observers to question whether a rise in additive manufacturing could lead to: the demise of global supply chains that have formed such a large part of world trade; the development of drones and driverless cars; and the possible deployment of high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) trains. The creation of maglev trains running in evacuated air tunnels – known as vactrains – where there is almost no air resistance, represented a serious threat to the air freight industry if the train technology gained widespread adoption. In fact, vactrain proponents argue that speeds of up to 6,000kph could theoretically be reached, which would mean a two-hour journey between Beijing and New York. Maglev technology is already deployed in some parts of the world, and earlier this month, a Japanese maglev passenger train went over 500kph. Driverless trucks could have large impact on the freight industry, especially since a driver shortage crisis appears to be a long-term trend.

Lack of capacity and potential legislative problems make delivery drones risky business. The parcelcopter, costing about 40,000 EU, has a payload of less than 2kg because in order to get a flying permit easily, the entire system needs to be less than 5kg. Additionally, current regulations stipulate that drones need to be able to be controlled by a person at any time during its flight, which means the unit has to continually be within eyesight – effectively 300 metres.

“One of the most useful current uses is to survey infrastructure, BP uses them to survey pipelines; and there is also intra-plant transport use such as ferrying components around large mining sites.

“Urban deliveries is the use case with the highest business potential, but it’s also the one that’s furthest from happening because of the regulations and social acceptance. Do we want thousands of drones flying around our cities?

“We don’t see this happening in the next five to 10 years,” he said.“We see it being most applicable in delivery to remote areas in highly developed countries,” he added.

Source: Gavin van Marle, The Loadstar

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