When Will Google Revolutionize Logistics?

Google has assembled a series of technologies capable of transforming logistics as we know it. Some of them are well known and the applications obvious; others less so. I’ll start with the obvious ones.

Driverless cars
Truck drivers will not be necessary at some point in the future, and that future will probably occur sooner than many of us would imagine. Companies will not only save money on wages and benefits, but driverless vehicles obey the rules. They drive at the speed limit stored on their maps and they maintain a safe distance from other vehicles using a system of sensors. Google is not the only company developing driverless cars — just about every automaker is doing work in this area — but Google is ahead.

Google Maps and Android Devices
Google bought Motorola Mobility and gained control of Android mobile devices. The combination of Google Maps and Android devices provides for a variety of logistics capabilities: GPS enabled, voice activated, turn-by-turn navigation; up-to-date congestion information for urban areas; indoor maps that delivery personnel can use to see detailed floor plans and get accurate indoor locations for select airports, stores and other locations.

Currently, the Google Maps routing application does not consider truck height and weight or Hazmat restrictions. Some GPS enabled routing applications use historical data to predict congestion and generate more accurate routes. Google does not do this, but if the company decided to develop these types of applications, there is little doubt it could do so very quickly.

The perfect search engine would understand context and deliver results tailored to a user’s need. It would give a user answers to questions he or she has not even asked. In the Google world, search is being improved with “assist” functions. Google Now is available on the latest generation of Android devices. Using information from email, calendar, past searches, and location information, the search tool could, for example, alert a truck to leave for an airport now, rather than in an hour as scheduled, so as not to miss the flight because of congestion.

The idea of context aware devices can be extended to a Google Maps application built for logistics. Currently, consumers users of Google Maps for Android can search for restaurants and businesses near them. For truck drivers, the corollary might be a Google Map displaying police and weigh stations.

Social Networking
Adrian in particular has written extensively on how social media may come to change logistics. Google also has a social network solution, Google+, that is woven into a variety of Google products.

New Patents
Google is a patent machine, and with the Motorola Mobility acquisition, it gained control of a patent treasure chest. As we pointed out in one of our most popular articles from 2012, Google was issued a patent for a container tracking system: “Shipping containers are networked for transferring data between the shipping containers. The shipping containers include sensors for detecting conditions associated with the shipping containers.” Conditions sensed by shipping containers are transmitted via satellite or cellular communications to a container-tracking application system. Basically, this system provides real-time visibility and control for both inventory at rest and in motion.

Will Google transform logistics? I don’t know. But once technologies exist, and the potential exists, you can bet that some company will use those technologies to differentiate themselves. It is perhaps more likely that other IT firms will license these technologies from Google and use them as a foundation on which to build new capabilities, even applications we would find difficult to imagine today.