If you follow the supply chain and logistics space, it should come as no surprise that the industry is finally entering the modern era.
Every year for the past two decades, Time magazine has compiled a list of the 100 best, most exciting and most unique inventions from around the world. Last year’s list featured innovations from a few supply chain and logistics companies, like Nuro’s self-driving R2 delivery robot and Watershed’s Carbon Cutter.
But supply chain and logistics companies have never been mainstays on the list — until this year.
On Time’s Best Inventions of 2022, revealed last week, the list doubled to 200 inventions, including solutions built by a diverse group of supply chain and logistics firms from Aeva to Zipline.
Nominations were solicited from Time editors and correspondents worldwide as well as through an online application process. Submissions were evaluated based on factors like originality, efficacy, ambition and impact, with a special emphasis on growing fields like electric vehicles and green energy.
The final 200 innovations were then divided into categories like accessibility, style and transportation. But despite the lack of a supply chain or logistics section, the industry made its presence felt up and down the list.
Here are 10 of the supply chain and logistics inventions Time highlighted on this year’s roundup.
Aeva | Aeries II 4D LiDAR
Autonomous vehicles may not have drivers — but they do still have eyes. Typically, driverless cars, vans and trucks rely on light detection and ranging, or LiDAR, to “see” the road in front of them. But often those systems have trouble identifying the speeds of different objects that could impact the driver.
That’s why Aeva built Aeries II, an enhanced LiDAR solution that maps not only the position of objects around the vehicle but also their velocity. The system has a 120-degree field of vision, so it’s capable of identifying hazards like vehicles switching lanes, and distance is no issue — the company is currently partnering with NASA to try to map the moon.
The Aeries II system is also incredibly compact, fitting on the surface of a single silicon chip, and it’s integrated with some of the leading autonomous driving software platforms like Plus.
Ford | F-150 Lightning
Electric passenger vehicles are steadily picking up demand as the nation attempts to reduce transportation emissions. But the freight sector accounts for a significant amount of that waste, and electric trucks are still in their infancy.
Ford, though, is looking to lead the charge. The F-150 Lightning is an electric version of the automaker’s best-selling vehicle, with a range of 250 miles on a single charge. The truck can also pull up to 10,000 pounds while automatically calculating its remaining range based on the payload.
The F-150 Lightning even comes with an onboard generator, external lighting and access to a network of charging stations. It first became available to the public in April.
Gatik | Driverless Box Trucks
A regular at FreightWaves events, Gatik is now getting some notoriety outside of the freight industry. The company’s focus is on the middle mile, orchestrating short-haul, fixed-route deliveries for retailers.
Gatik’s driverless box trucks are some of the largest autonomous vehicles on the market, and they’ve now been on the road delivering for Walmart for over two years. The firm’s fleet of light and medium-duty trucks operates 12 hours a day, seven days a week, relying on fixed pickup and drop-off locations.
Last November, Gatik took a huge step by removing drivers in its trucks delivering between a Walmart warehouse and a grocery store. Currently, Gatik trucks are driving in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Ontario, Canada.
Nextbase | iQ Smart Dash Cam
One criticism lobbied against the freight industry has been the lack of technology solutions for drivers. Plenty of focus has been placed on systems for carriers and shippers, but the people actually making the deliveries have too often taken a back seat.
Nextbase, though, makes driver safety a priority. The company’s iQ Smart Dash Cam combines a 4K camera with AI and cloud-connected technology to allow constant, real-time access to dash cam feeds.
It even boasts a feature called “Witness Mode,” a hands-free, voice-activated function that saves dash cam footage to the cloud and can notify an emergency contact if needed. The system can also go into SOS Mode in the event of a crash, alerting emergency services immediately.
OX Delivers | OX Ecosystem
Based in Rwanda, OX Delivers’ mission is to build an accessible logistics ecosystem designed around clean transport. Tackling the challenge from all angles, OX builds not only vehicles but also the infrastructure required for them to succeed.
The firm’s OX Ecosystem is billed as an on-demand logistics platform that allows farmers in rural Rwanda to book cargo space on a network of EVs. The idea is to give them access to distant markets while paying the same rate they would for bicycle cargo.
OX introduced its first EV in Rwanda earlier this year, with more slated to roll out by 2024. The fleet is run by local drivers and will soon include an electric truck designed to navigate the country’s rural roads.
Phantom Auto | Remote Operation Platform
So far the list has covered driverless trucks and driverless cars. But what about a driverless forklift? That’s exactly what Phantom Auto is building with its Remote Operation Platform for Logistics.
The platform almost looks like the video game Mario Kart — a forklift operator sits at a computer and uses a miniature steering wheel and pedals to commandeer the machine remotely. Workers have real-time, 360-degree views of their surroundings, and they can communicate with staff on the ground with two-way audio.
Another key feature is the ability for drivers to switch between vehicles, even when they’re in different facilities. That could be a boon for warehouse managers contending with labor shortages — in theory, they could have employees working from anywhere.
Ravin | Inspect App
In freight, adding a vehicle to your fleet is only half the battle — you also need to inspect and maintain it. Ravin recognizes that problem and is using AI to make keeping an eye on vehicles a simpler process for fleet operators.
The company’s Inspect app uses closed-circuit television, smartphone cameras and AI to autonomously detect flaws like scratches and dents. The app even generates a vehicle condition report with estimates on the severity of the damage and the cost to repair it.
Ravin’s software was built using billions of scans of 360-degree images, which the system uses to learn about maintenance issues.
Sourcemap | Forced Labor Due Diligence
The supply chain is big — really big. As such, it can be difficult for companies to understand exactly where and how they source products — and avoid the use of forced labor. Sourcemap is designed to create supplier transparency, no matter the product.
Sourcemap members on average discover more than 10,000 new suppliers within their supply chains, and more than 500,000 companies are registered on the platform as a whole — the company flags them if it discovers waste, fraud or abuse. The firm’s new Forced Labor Due Diligence solution takes that up a notch, helping customers comply with labor laws around the world, like the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
The solution maps and cross-references customers’ supply chains against an archive of companies barred under such laws, helping them to avoid legal headaches or inefficiencies. Around 5,000 companies are currently using the software.
Watch: Can you ever have too much technology?
Watershed | Watershed Supply Chain
One of the few repeat appearances on the list, Watershed made it on the Best Inventions of 2022 after showing up last year with its Carbon Cutter platform. Now, it’s got another solution aimed at decarbonizing supply chains.
Watershed Supply Chain measures and reports the carbon emissions throughout a company’s supply chain, using the data to create a carbon footprint map and help companies identify areas where they can reduce their impact.
The platform connects directly to companies’ business operations to gather emissions data, compiling it into a dashboard that shows them how much carbon is being emitted, and where. Watershed is working with companies like Stripe, Walmart and Airbnb to find the biggest inefficiencies in their supply chains and eradicate them.
Zipline | Home Drone Delivery
The fate of the drone delivery industry is still up in the air, so to speak, with some observers predicting it will remain niche. Try telling that to Zipline. The firm works with health care providers around the world to deliver essential supplies like vaccines, blood samples and more.
Last year, Zipline began working with Walmart to deliver small packages directly to customers’ front doors. Operating out of a distribution center in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, the company is making deliveries within a 50-mile radius in 15 minutes or less.
Unlike most delivery drones, which use a winch and tether to lower packages to the ground, Zipline instead uses an airdrop system. Packages are attached to parachutes that allow the drone to hover high off the ground while making deliveries, helping them to alleviate safety and privacy concerns.
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