John McDonald: Indiana’s future in delivery is delivering

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John McDonaldThis November, the Indiana Technology and Innovation Association released its 2020 legislative agenda.

In it, the group detailed its support for widespread broadband access and smart technology products and services that would move the state and our cities toward “smart city” status. Increased broadband access in particular would help expand the capabilities and applications of the internet of things as well as the use of smart technology.

Fiscally, with greater connectivity, entrepreneurs would be better equipped to ideate and develop IoT projects that could benefit the state as a whole. In fact, smart cities are projected to add nearly $30 trillion to the world economy by 2025 and up to $11.1 trillion annually.

When I was shopping for holiday gifts this year, I was reminded of ITIA’s goal for building “Smart Indiana,” specifically the role logistics and transportation play in the retail ecosystem. Like millions of shoppers, I purchased all of my holiday gifts online—I never once stepped into a store—and I thought about the trust we place in a retailer’s supply chain to fulfill and ship our orders. Yes, we choose delivery methods and track our shipments, but as consumers, we actually have little control over the delivery process. All we can do is hope our packages are delivered in time.

Especially this year, the heightened popularity of e-commerce and a shortened shopping season have increased demand for next- or same-day shipping. And it’s clearer than ever that autonomous vehicles and things like IoT-enabled delivery solutions would be viable solutions.

As we’ve observed in the past few months, from the chaotic logistics aftermath following China’s Singles’ Day to the recent news of Celadon Group suddenly shutting down its operations, the trajectory a package takes once a consumer hits “order” has the power to drastically affect the bottom line.

Nationwide, Indiana has the most pass-through interstates and is the only state with a port system that gives waterway access to two coasts. This positions our state more strongly than any other to lead the shipping industry, specifically last-mile delivery. This infrastructure makes Indiana a top candidate for autonomous technology deployment.

I mentioned ITIA’s support for broadband access and smart technology because these two things lay the foundation Indiana needs for an initiative of this magnitude. Across the state, entrepreneurs would get the tools they need to develop new products and services for last-mile delivery and solidify Indiana’s position as a transportation and logistics leader.

Proof that we’re already moving in the right direction are Purdue’s food delivery robots and PerceptIn’s decision to move its global headquarters to Fishers. In PerceptIn’s case, the visual intelligence technology company is set to also partner with the city of Fishers to develop short distance, self-driving shuttles for the community. These two developments signal a tremendous economic opportunity for Indiana.

Moreover, Purdue and PerceptIn are shining examples of autonomous “last-mile” technology, or machine learning solutions that can facilitate the last step in a shipment’s journey. In the transportation and logistics industries, last-mile delivery is the final critical step to a positive customer experience.

For example, all those holiday gifts I purchased are now “out for delivery,” but realistically it could be hours before the tracking number shows a completed delivery. As consumers increase their shipping expectations, the last mile becomes more problematic.

Someday, not too far in the future, I’ll order my holiday gifts and know the precise day and time to expect delivery. At home, a robot would exit an autonomous delivery truck, greet me by name and neatly stack my packages at the front door. Maybe I’ll add that scenario to my wish list next year.•

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McDonald is CEO of Fishers-based ClearObject and chairman of the Indiana Technology and Innovation Policy Committee. Send comments to [email protected]

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