Drones, Autonomous Cars, Blockchain: Ann Strauss-Wieder Discusses the Latest Technologies Impacting Last Mile Distribution

Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director – Freight Planning, North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority participates in CAPRE's 7th Annual Northeast Industrial Real Estate Summit, held on March 14, 2018 in Jersey City, NJ.

JERSEY CITY, NJ — The Last Mile is an integral part of the modern-day supply chain. Not only is it changing before our eyes, you better catch a glimpse or you won’t even recognize it. So says Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director for Freight Planning at the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, who was a featured speaker at CapRE’s Sixth Annual Northeast Industrial Real Estate & E-Commerce Distribution Summit, last month.

Anne Strauss-Wieder, Director for Freight Planning, North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority

There, Strauss-Wieder spoke in depth about the Last Mile — what it is, what it’s becoming, and why we should wrap our head around it. Below, she provides a lay of the land on some of the most exciting technological advancements impacting tine industrial sector.

“So we have talked a lot about technology. And we use technology quite a bit. So what is it looking like?” she posed to the room. “Well first of all, as the person who spoke this morning mentioned, we have semi-autonomous and autonomous trucks. First of all, I will note that the first delivery by drone was beer. The first delivery by a fully automated truck was Budweiser. So I’m not going to exactly say that beer is an immediate indicator of a technological change, but it certainly is on a lot of people’s minds.”

“Seriously though, what’s happening there is that drones are moving into use,” continued Strauss-Wieder, pointing to visual aid of a drone on a Powerpoint presentation. “The one that I [show] here happens to be delivering critical medical supplies in areas of Africa. But they are being used to delivery supplies in catastrophic events when we just can’t get people in. A lot of it is experimentation, but, yes, we are seeing the drones appear. There is a good video online from Maersk, the shipping companies, and they look at using drones for critical replacement parts for vessels, so that their vessels don’t have to slow down. They can actually get the drones to the vessels to deliver what they need to keep the vessel moving.”

Next, Strauss-Wieder honed in on autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks. “They’re coming. There’s no question about that,” she asserted. “But when are they going to come, and what are they going to look like? Talking to a number of people in the industry, we’re going to see the autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks on those long distance routes first. Where they can just move along the highway much more quickly.”

“When we’re talking about PUD, local pickup and delivery, that gets more complex. And that’s probably where you’re going to see them introduced last,” she continued. “Because we do need to maneuver around our ever-changing urban and suburban environments. But that’s good, because the workforce for local pickup and deliver is easier to obtain than the workers who are driving long-distance trucks. So that is happening.”

Finally, the focus shifted to a topic more often Blockchain discussed at CapRE’s Data Center Summits. “You’ve all heard about blockchain and wondered what blockchain is beyond Bitcoin,” she began. “It is very different, but think about it as another way of creating an accounting or relationship environment, sharing information to expedite goods.”

She then referred to an earlier speaker from IBM Watson, who spoke to the gathering about their innovative use of blockchain to track the flow of goods. “It maintains the chain of custody for food,” she explained. “They’re working with Maersk themselves to expedite the movement of goods. We’ve talked quite a bit about how to get the information flow along the supply chain. And for that matter, at every distribution center coming up, information flow is as critical as physical flow these days.”

For more from Strauss-Wieder, check out previous CapRE Insider Reports covering her earlier remarks: