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The Future of Intermodal Freight

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 04/21/2016 | 3:35 PM

Although sea freight and rail is currently the most popular form of intermodal freight, it is my opinion that this will change in the coming decades. There is no doubt that sea and rail will still be an important part of any organization’s supply chain, but logistics is on the cusp of a new generation of intermodal freight.  Looking forward, one has to recognize the growing importance of Autonomous Delivery Systems. Drones, terrestrial robots or self-piloting vehicles will soon dominate the “last mile” of delivery.

Some might feel that this might be a little premature, but people have forgotten that these devices already operate among us and no one is taking notice. Amazon has begun an aggressive acquisition program to create a global network of logistics as well as become a manufacturer of delivery drones. Although some feel that this is premature, Germany and Switzerland are both already using drones to deliver mail. Amazon is already testing drone deliveries in three countries outside of the United States. This new technology has the potential to disrupt the old system of movement of goods. 

The U.K. is already testing terrestrial autonomous robots to deliver groceries locally in London. The Botler (an automated hotel robot) has already been in use at hotels for almost a year. These technologies seem more likely to be accepted due to not violating our airspace, but greater acceptance will certainly come in time. Furthermore, a mining company in Australia is already using self-piloting trucks to make regular deliveries in a remote area, and a group of autonomous trucks were organized in a convoy travel through Europe.

Another consideration that has crept up and no one has cried foul is self-piloting rail vehicles.  Self-piloting trains are common in many airports, and these robotic railcars carry hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions of people daily with rarely an incident.  There is already a company working to create a small robot train delivery system that could be integrated as part of city transportation and delivery system.  There is no doubt that more of this kind of technology will be used in the future as additional logistical support is required to support the growing demand of consumers. 

In closing, intermodal freight will certainly be changing over the next several years.  It is not surprising that robots and drones will be reinventing society as there has been a shift in intermodal freight that occurs every few decades or so.  Clearly ADS offers disruptive technology will change the appearance of intermodal freight for the remainder of the century. 


Amazon. (n.d.). Amazon. Retrieved from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com

Associated Press. (2014, July 12). Amazon asks FAA for permission to test its delivery drones. Retrieved from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2014/07/12/amazon-asks-faa-for-permission-to-use-drones-to-deliver-packages/

Clark, C. (2015, October 19). Rio Tinto using self driving trucks to transport ore. Retrieved from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/rio-tinto-using-self-driving-trucks-to-transport-ore-2015-10?r=UK&IR=T

Gaudin, S. (2015, March 12). Hotel guests open the door to a robotic butler. Retrieved from Computer World: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2895791/hotel-guests-open-the-door-to-a-robotic-butler.html

Nield, D. (2015, April 15). UK company wants to deliver parcels through an automated underground tunnel system. Retrieved from Giz Mag: http://www.gizmag.com/mole-solutions-underground-deliveries/37009/

Tablyn, T. (2016, February 23). Delivery Drone Company To Start Testing Robots On London Streets Next Month. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2016/02/23/delivery-drone-company-to-start-testing-robots-on-london-streets-next-month_n_9296594.html



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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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