CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
December 16, 2017
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AI, robotics expert says logistics sector needs to push hard for truck platooning

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Mary (Missy) Cummings of Duke University advocates for driverless trucks, outlines limitations of artificial intelligence.

Commercial motor vehicle "platooning," where a string of driverless trucks follows behind a lead vehicle with a driver, is a safe and sensible idea that needs more support from the freight transport and logistics community for it to gain traction, one of the nation's leading experts on artificial intelligence and robotics said yesterday.

Mary (Missy) Cummings, professor at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and director of the university's Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, said the platooning concept makes a lot of sense and is achievable, but it suffers from a lack of investment from the stakeholders who would benefit the most from it. Cummings, who keynoted the second day of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' EDGE 2017 conference in Atlanta, did not address the issue of individual driverless, or driver-assisted, commercial vehicles plying the nation's roads.

Cummings also predicted the development of highly automated "super-dispatch" centers that will function like control towers to manage the movement of vehicles and their interaction with intelligent roads.

Cummings, who co-chairs the World Economic Forum's Council on Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, said concerns that advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics will displace millions of workers are overblown. Human thought becomes critical during periods of crisis and uncertainty, she said. AI programs, she added, "don't understand the concept of the world around them" or the context and nuances affecting decisions, she told the conference.

Cummings also said that the push to embed more robotics in warehouses and distribution centers will be hamstrung by the lack of qualified robotics maintenance technicians to repair problematic machines. Robot maintenance is very complicated, she said, and companies are way behind the curve in maintaining the new and complex equipment.

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