The logistics industry is in the midst of massive changes as technology transforms the way goods are shipped, stored and sold. As these changes shake the industry, one technology is emerging as a potential game-changer for the logistics revolution: edge computing.
Edge computing is the structural opposite of cloud computing. Whereas a cloud computing system processes all data and transactions through a centralized server that may be geographically distant, edge computing systems process them using localized computing power that’s often onboard in the same electronics enclosure as an IoT device. That shift can produce impressive results for businesses looking for improvements in processing speed.
The five trends we’ll discuss here all represent the potential frontier of edge computing in the logistics industry. Each is likely to create a new normal that will change the way the industry does business—and, by extension, the way the world does business.
1. Edge Computing and IoT Will Continue to Drive Innovation in The Logistics Sector.
The logistics sector is making substantial investments in Internet of Things (IoT) technology. From remote cargo monitoring to the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow, many of the most promising logistics technologies will require the fast, local computing power that edge computing is built to deliver.
So, does this mean every semi truck now has to carry a server farm with it? Here’s where it’s important to differentiate between “thick edge” and “thin edge.” Thick edge is edge computing that involves intensive deployments of processing power like servers. Thin edge is its lightweight counterpart that helps collect data from endpoint devices and funnel it to the thick edge.
Thus, a truck or other transportation vehicle doesn’t need a portable server, just a gateway that gathers data from IoT devices and performs the most critical computations on-site. Through this “lean edge” philosophy, businesses can gain agility where it matters most without needing to load down vehicles with excessive hardware.
2. Edge Computing Will Help Reduce the Traffic Load On Logistics Cloud Servers.
Road traffic isn’t the only kind that can bog down a logistics network. When networks are filled with thousands or millions of devices that need regular access, traffic management can be a challenge even on large cloud servers. In the logistics industry, an inability to access remote data can mean delayed shipments, spoiled products or worse.
Edge computing can ease traffic load by providing the necessary computing power closer to the source of the data. The less time that data spends moving from the endpoint to the cloud and back again, the faster and more cleanly the processes can operate.
3. Edge Computing Will Be a Critical Part of Warehouse Automation.
Warehouse automation is already here, and it’s growing more critical by the day as industry leaders implement systems such as automated picking and warehouse robots. Smart implementation of edge computing will be critical as these sometimes data-intensive applications become standard technologies in the logistics industries.
As the warehouse becomes increasingly automated, the lines between warehouse and data center may begin to blur. Many facilities will need to devote resources to developing on-site computing power in their warehouse facilities, whether that’s a few micro-servers in plastic enclosures or a full-sized portable data center. Warehouses will also need to pay close attention to the variety of IoT standards currently on the market, which can cause compatibility issues between devices and edge computing technologies.
The big-picture goal for many warehouses is to develop a hybrid edge-cloud model that uses the strengths of each method—the cloud’s connectivity and flexibility, plus the speed of edge computing. By building out edge processing power, businesses can lay the foundation for a warehouse that’s able to continually improve and innovate via technology.
4. Edge Computing Will Help Integrate the Logistics Sector with Smart Cities.
As municipalities of all sizes begin to invest in smart city features, streamlined communication with smart city IoT devices will become a must-have for nearly all logistics providers. Logistics vehicles will need to talk to smart city IoT systems including environmental protection, waste disposal and traffic control systems.
Route optimization and planning is a perfect example. Current cloud-based routing systems offer good performance on traditional routing, but the smart city of the future may require more. Smart city systems might employ systems such as staggered routing to prevent traffic jams or automatically route large vehicles away from school zones during instructional hours.
Tomorrow’s logistics professionals will need to be ready to handle these complex interactions with outside systems. Edge computing will help provide the computing power to make these interactions productive and facilitate frictionless compliance across multiple geographic markets with differing rules.
5. Edge Computing Will Make Logistics Vehicles Smarter and More Self-Sustaining.
It’s clear that autonomous vehicles are still several years away from ubiquity in the logistics sector. But there are numerous technologies on the market right now that have the power to make logistics vehicles much smarter, even if they can’t yet drive themselves.
If there’s one use case where edge computing is an absolute must, it’s autonomous vehicles. A totally cloud-based system is too slow to perform the millions of calculations per second that a self-driving car requires to drive safely. And if self-driving vehicle technology is ever to reach true autonomy, edge computing hardware must evolve alongside it in processing power and neural network capabilities.
This is particularly critical for logistics vehicles, which are usually much larger and require more skill to operate safely than passenger vehicles. A fully autonomous tractor-trailer will need some serious chips under the hood—but, if Moore’s Law holds true, we’ll have it sooner rather than later.
The transformative power of edge computing will soon become apparent throughout the logistics industry. Smart leadership will begin looking for ways that edge computing can be adapted to their business models, provide value to their customers and improve the world in which they do business.