Fulfillment is entering a brave new world.
It's been all over the news this past year: online giant Amazon wants to streamline its order fulfillment process by delivering packages to some of its millions of customers using unmanned drones. Calling its new service Amazon Prime Air, the company hopes to delivery packages into the hands of eager customers in as little as 30 minutes.
While they are still ironing out the details around the safe and legal use of airspace with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Amazon's "Prime Air Team" claims they will be ready to begin operations as soon as the FAA grants them permission.
Not to be outdone, Google has also waded into the unmanned delivery arena.
According to a September 2014 article by Corinne Lozzio, Google is testing its own drone delivery system in the skies over Australia. Calling the system Project Wing, Google hopes to do more than just rush the latest Beyonce CD to bored suburban teens. It hopes to use the system to deliver essentials like food and medicine to people living in remote and inaccessible parts of the world.
If people can have what they need delivered to them "just in the moment that they need it," project director Astro Teller is quoted as saying, the world could become "a radically better place."
And that's not all. Beating both of these American marketing superpowers to the punch, the first actual drone deliveries have already been started by the German postal service.
According to a September Bloomberg article ,"DHL Beats Amazon, Google to First Planned Drone Delivery," Deutsche Post AG will be delivering medication and other "urgent goods" to the island of Juist in the North Sea beginning September 25.
The delivery vehicles, dubbed "parcelcopters," will be the first unmanned drones to complete real-world deliver missions.
But, in all the fuss about unmanned air delivery, another order fulfillment revolution has quietly started and gone mostly unnoticed. The latest advance in high-tech product delivery to hit the planning table is unmanned, remote-controlled container ships.
Luxury car producer, Rolls-Royce, recently announced plans to produce a fleet of unmanned ships to deliver its cars and other goods across the globe. According to Rupert Neate of The Guardian, the robot fleet will have no human presence on board.
The ships will be operated— several at a time in fact— by a trained and licensed captain from the safety of dry land. Using a remote virtual interface much like that of a video game, the captain would use a "full bridge simulator" to guide his ships across oceans, through storms and rough seas, and safely into port.
The ships will be, according to the British engineering company charged with their creation, "cheaper, greener and safer" than those manned by human beings. A single captain could, they claim, successfully operate up to ten ships in the relative comfort and safety of an office, rather than under stressful shipboard conditions.
Such technology has the potential to eliminate—or at least greatly diminish—human error caused by distractions or lack of sleep.
A rapidly changing landscape
This is really big news. Drone deliveries— in the air and on the sea— are revolutionizing the transportation and delivery of packages. And, just as importantly, this development illustrates how vital agility is to your business strategy.
In the world of order fulfillment, technological innovations turn on a dime. If you have a business and hope to succeed in this incredibly exciting "brave new world," you cannot afford to be complacent about innovation and change. You—and your third party fulfillment partner— must keep up with all that's new and possible when it comes to getting your products safely into the hands of the people who need them.