When our team was asked to put together a list of conferences we wanted to attend for 2017, I was apprehensive when I put on my list the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). To many outside of the tech world, it could look like a boondoggle.
Then I remembered Kenco’s Innovation Lab is designed to look at trends in the world and see how those trends could apply to logistics, NOT how do we make logistics innovative. The annual Consumer Electronics Show is indeed THE premier showcase for the latest gadgets, televisions, gaming systems, drones, cell phone cases, 3D Printers, audio systems, home appliances, and much more – all targeted at the average consumer.
Being a stereotypical gadget-addicted-kind-of-guy, CES was an unbelievable experience, and for three days I was in gadget heaven. After the first few hours of being completely overwhelmed, I did have to remind myself why I was there – to look for trends, products, and technologies that were directly relevant to the supply chain. On my first day back at the office, I must have sounded like an excited kid on Christmas Eve. So, I won’t subject you to the hours of enthusiastic storytelling forced on my co-workers – instead, I leave you with my top 3 takeaways:
- Mercedes-Benz is more than a car company – since 2001 their line of Sprinter Vans exploded into the delivery and service industries, and in 2015 they sold almost 27,000 vans in the United States. Although Mercedes is certainly not in the delivery business, Sprinter vans provide the backbone to companies that are. In September of 2016, their van division debuted a new delivery concept designed for use in urban areas – the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van. This prototype integrates numerous innovative technologies – bleeding edge electric delivery vans, complex routing software, highly automated racking inside the van, and drone deliveries - for last mile delivery in certain environments. Mercedes shipped their entire Vision Van prototype on display at CES, and I spent over an hour talking to the program director about the project. I wondered why Mercedes was spending tremendous resources developing a last mile delivery solution (a service they don’t plan ever to provide), and I learned more about their reasons for developing this solution. It was fascinating, and you can find more about the project here and their reasons HERE.
- In 2013 Amazon founder Jeff Bezos introduced Prime Air – a last mile delivery service powered by drones. Since this announcement, I’ve been following Amazon (and others) pioneering this idea and am keenly aware of both the benefits and issues with the concept. While I visited no less than 50 vendors in the business of selling drones to hobbyists, I also spent time looking at solutions (often from these same vendors) targeted at large corporations – innovative aerial warehouse surveillance solutions, solar panel inspections, mapping/surveying, and outdoor inventory solutions. A French company had even developed drone platforms for industrial spray painting and crop fertilization. One of the most valuable takeaways from CES was a discussion with one of the top FAA attorney’s regarding industry uncertainty re the legal use of drones indoors. The FAA conveniently had a booth at CES, and I drilled one of their top attorneys regarding the use of drones indoors. She verified indoor use of drones is totally unregulated by the FAA – so the sky is the limit (as long as you’re indoors).
- Autonomous vehicles. Almost every car manufacturer has a presence at CES and this year was no exception. While the annual Detroit Show is the primary showcase for new models and prototypes, their presence at CES is to focus on new car technologies and innovations. Not surprisingly, every automaker is developing some form of driving assistance in the 2017 models – while most promising fully autonomous capabilities within the next few years. And because many of these automakers also produce delivery vehicles we can surely expect to see more driverless vehicles throughout the entire supply chain.
After three days it was time to return to the world where I will never own most of these wonder new gadgets. During the ride to the airport, I reflected on the three days of products and technologies I had just experienced. While I had seen tens of thousands of innovative new gadgets, appliances, phones, televisions, and driverless cars I had also made some great contacts with vendors providing solutions that directly impact my work in the supply chain. But my thoughts kept turning back to a single takeaway that was true for every one of these innovations. These vendors will need trucks, warehouses, planes, ships, forklifts, and logistics professionals involved in every step of getting these fantastic products into the hands of consumers. And my company will be playing a key role in this complex process.