Commentary

Robots vs humans at the Nordic Delivery Conference

At the Nordic Delivery Conference 2016, which took place in Copenhagen on 9 June, 600 participants from the ecommerce, logistics, transport and software industry listened to speakers from Silicon Valley to Shanghai in China. The main theme for the conference was competitive delivery, which each speaker had his or her own approach that shaped the focus of the day.

The main focus of the day became robot technology vs human contact, where many speakers focused on the timesaving, quality and economic benefits of introducing more robot technology in the delivery industry. The main speaker, Anna Kirah from Making Waves remained mostly sceptical of the increasing use of robot technology in the sector.

She showed in her presentation how a human-centric approach to business and technology development is far more valuable to a company than a one-sided focus on systems, numbers and economics. Anna Kirah’s message really hit home among the participants, who agreed with her on the importance of remembering the human being in our increasingly technological world.

Participants also raised questions about the growing use of robot technology in the delivery industry. What will happen to the employees where robots take over their tasks? And will we as consumers rather be serviced by robots instead of people? In what situations is one more relevant than the other?

These questions set the agenda for the conference’s panel debate where current and future challenges within the delivery industry were discussed. Innovation Strategist Bill O’Connor from Autodesk was in broad agreement with Kirah that we might lose the human touch in delivery services in line with the increasing use of robots, and as a result become more isolated and depressed as human beings. In response to this, Sandrine Lagrost from UPS and Markus Kückelhaus from DHL believed, that it was not a question of one or the other, but about how we can get the human touch to work together with the technology.

This cooperation was one of the focal points in Markus Kückelhaus’ presentation of the trends and technologies they work with at DHL’s innovation center in Bonn.

3D printing, Big Data, augmented reality, parcel-copters and driverless cars can help in streamlining logistics and delivery in the future, if you ask DHL, who is already well underway with testing the new technologies. The test results are positive and show that technologies not only help to improve efficiency, but also make the employees’ working day more enjoyable as well as improve customer service levels.

There was a broad agreement among participants and exhibitors about the fact that robot technology in the last mile is a good idea. However, there were different opinions as to whether the robot technology will be in the form of the delivery robot Starship, which was exhibited at the conference. While some participants were skeptical and thought that Starship was nothing more than a fun gimmick, others were quite sure that we are going to see its drones rolling along the streets in the near future. All participants and exhibitors agreed that innovation in one way or another is needed in order to survive, but many felt innovation is often limited by a negative mindsets and the fear of making mistakes.

Bill O’Connor, however, said he had the answer to this in his presentation where he boiled the innovation process down to seven questions that are essential to ask when working with innovation, based on an analysis 1,000 of the most significant innovations in human history. He claimed that innovation only requires 21 minutes a week.

 

Image credits:
  • NDC / Lars Salomonsen, Editorial use only.