Clearing a Path to the Future of Commercial Transportation with Data Science and AI

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Data Society   
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     September 2022         
machine learning         Blog
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Data science, AI, and ML are redefining how companies today move people and goods from place to place. And this digital transformation in railways, roadways, and waterways shows no signs of slowing in the near future. In fact, according to Market Reports World, the transportation analytics market is projected to reach $53,290 million by 2028, from $15,550 million in 2021. Beyond the improvements data-driven tools have already made possible in today’s transportation industry, these technologies will play an essential role in addressing several current trends and emerging challenges the sector faces. 

The Rise of e-Commerce

The astonishing explosion of eCommerce activity, estimated to grow by 50% in the next four years, is introducing a new set of demands into the transportation industry. With the mounting prevalence of online purchasing comes associated logistical needs and consumer expectations, such as current shipment tracking information, returns routing, and—in many cases—same-day delivery. AI-driven tools and predictive analytics can help carriers and freight forwarders meet many of these expectations through several capabilities including:

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  • NLP-powered chatbots to address customer concerns, provide real-time delivery updates based on tracking sensors, and quickly resolve service issues.
  • Automation of routine tasks to streamline processes.
  • Enabling forecasting to inform better logistical decisions and anticipate demand.

FedEx Dataworks provides a notable example of data science and machine learning tools at work in the age of eCommerce. Through this initiative, the shipping behemoth applies machine learning and predictive analytics to the abundant delivery tracking data it captures and integrates it with weather data and other relevant insights to make shipping more efficient, secure, and reliable. 

Increased Volume

The rapid ascent of eCommerce is part of an overall escalation in demand for transportation services, which industry reports suggest will continue to climb. For example, according to the U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast 2022, U.S. freight tonnage was expected to grow across modes of transportation by 24 percent by 2022, with an anticipated 70% of that volume transported via truck. With these mounting pressures will come a heightened need for improved efficiency and safety measures. Also, these increased transportation demands coincide with a decrease in transportation personnel. For example, the American Trucking Associations’ projection estimates that the industry will face a shortage of 160,000 drivers by 2028.

Turning to the skies, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) predicted in 2021 that air passenger numbers could double by 2037. In addition, IATA expects the current trend of increasing airline cargo to continue. More passengers, cargo, and flights will necessitate enhanced measures to ensure safety, streamline ticketing and airport procedures, and maintain aircraft. Data science and AI technologies can help ease the burden of increased transportation pressures through such current and potential contributions as:

  • Enabling advanced analytics to forecast conditions, traffic, and demand to optimize staffing, fuel, and other resources accordingly.
  • Offering the possibility of deploying autonomous vehicles to support airport operations and to act as couriers. If these vehicles reach full autonomy, they could reduce the US for-hire trucking industry operating costs by 45%
  • Powering digital twins, innovative tools that use real-time data and machine learning to create virtual simulations that inform critical real-world decisions and aid in vehicle repair and maintenance.
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The Environmental Impact of Transportation

As ecological health rises as a concern across industries, companies representing all modes of transportation prioritize environmental impact. According to the Inventory of the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990–2020, the transportation sector accounts for 27% of US greenhouse emissions, and this output is expected to grow by 20% by 2050. Through many of the applications referenced above, data science and AI technologies can help transportation enterprises minimize their contribution to climate change by improving fuel efficiency, optimizing routes and scheduling, and maximizing use of cargo and passenger space.

Data Science Training for Tomorrow’s Transportation Industry

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Already improving efficiency, safety, and passenger experience across modes of transportation, data science and AI solutions will be increasingly critical to the transportation industry’s success in adapting to evolving needs on the horizon. However, leveraging these technologies to meet future challenges will require widespread data literacy and skills across the transportation labor force. The urgency of addressing this skills gap is reflected in the PwC CEE Transportation & Logistics Trend Book 2019, which found that 78% of transportation & logistics CEOs surveyed reported that they were concerned about the digital skills gap in their workforce and their industry. With data science training across organizations, transportation personnel will be equipped to embrace the tools that will propel the industry into an era of faster, more eco-friendly, more reliable, and more convenient transportation.

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Data Society provides customized, industry-tailored data science training solutions—partnering with organizations to educate, equip, and empower their workforce with the skills to achieve their goals and expand their impact.

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