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How DHL Aims to Remake Logistics with AI (datanami)

What do semi-autonomous truck platoons, chat-bots, and fraud detection cameras have in common? They’re all part of a big plan that DHL unveiled yesterday to remake itself with artificial intelligence.

DHL is investing millions to take advantage of recent advances in machine learning that could help it optimize its sprawling $60-billion delivery service, which touches nearly every country in the world and involves 500,000 workers.

According to Ben Gesing, a project manager in DHL’s Innovation and Trend Research division, the Germany company is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy to utilize a variety of emergent AI technologies and techniques to help it cut costs, increase efficiency, and improve service levels across the company.

“In terms of data creation, processing storage and accessibility, the technology conditions for AI are very favorable,” Gesing tells Datanami. “Broadly speaking we think the future of AI and logistics is filled with potential.”

Here are some of the AI projects that DHL is currently working on:

Autonomous Vehicles – DHL is working on autonomous vehicles on three fronts, including the development of intelligent robotic workers in its own warehouses and air freight centers; the use of semi-autonomous trucks in the line-haul business; and “follow-me” robots used for last-mile route delivery in urban settings.

One of the more interesting uses of AI is the development of truck platoons in Europe, where anywhere from one to four autonomous semi-trucks follow a lead truck with a human driver down the road. By synchronizing acceleration, braking, and steering among the trucks, the platoon can boost freight capacity while minimizing costs, all without handing total control over to the AI program. DHL will be involved with testing a truck platooning in the UK next year with the British Transportation Research Laboratory and truck manufacturer DAF Trucks.

Chat Bots – DHL is looking into using autonomous customer service representatives by using deep learning-based natural language processing (NLP) technology, such as Amazon‘s Alexa, to automate some of the easier interactions between customers and DHL’s customer service representatives.

“Automating some of the low-level queries with chat bots can really increase the value of each interaction between customer and [human] agents by letting them focus on more high-level queries,” Gesing says. “That basically increases our throughput by a multiplier, not just a marginal increase.”

Computer Vision – DHL is exploring the use of deep learning-based computer vision algorithms for at least two use cases, including fraud detection and optimizing the loading of planes and trucks.

Some people try to defraud DHL by re-using shipping labels, which Gesing says could be automatically detected using cameras hooked up to fraud-detection algorithms. Similarly, computer vision could boost DHL’s capability to detect the size of packages so they can be stacked better.

“It doesn’t seem that interesting if you’re not in the logistics industry, but understanding how to best use your space and really optimizing the volume and capacity inside an aircraft or a truck” is important, Gesing says. “We’re getting better and better tools and technology to do that using AI-based vision technology.”

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Alex Woodie

17 April 2018

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