Not so long ago, “the future,” was flying cars and hoverboards (no…like…real hoverboards). Before Marty McFly and Doc, “the future,” was putting a man on the moon. Before that, the steam engine. Etc. Etc. Etc. The future is always changing, and always transforming – in ways both big and small – how we exist. You might even be reading this on your cell phone. Ten years ago? No way.
Technology has always been the future, and as we expand our knowledge of mechanics, science, and even the natural world around us, companies of all sizes are going to have to adapt or die. The shipping, logistics, and transportation industries are no different.
Below you’ll find 20 Companies That Are Changing the Future of Shipping. Some you’ve heard of, others not. Some are ubiquitous in your daily life, some you might never hear of again. They deal with everything from robots to drones, environmental responsibility, and working to eliminate hunger.
Even though these companies are all over the place, they share one common trait: They are all changing the way companies and individuals ship today, tomorrow, and well into the future.
This is the big boy. The behemoth. The leviathan. Amazon is changing more than just the shipping industry, but, yeah, they’re doing that too. They’ve introduced same day delivery in new places all over the country (Eric Ravenscraft, Lifehacker).
I recently ordered the Indiana Jones trilogy via Prime around breakfast and was watching Harrison run from a rolling ball by dinnertime. What does all this mean for the logistics industry? Prime-time players like Fedex say they’re not worried about Amazon taking more control of their shipping (Ken Wood, LJM).
And while this may be true, everyone in the industry is certainly paying attention to Amazon Logistics, and how they are changing the industry. And if the shipping industry wasn’t enough, with Amazon Flex, the company is dipping their toes into the transportation industry, going against the Ubers and Lyfts of the world (Harry Campbell, The Rideshare Guy).
Instacart is a grocery delivery service that has been making waves in the logistics industry for years. Earlier this year they partnered with Whole Foods (Jason Del Ray, Recode). And though they’ve got big names on their team, all is not perfect. In March, it was reported that they were slashing driver pay (Eve Batey, SFist), and they’ve got plenty of competition in the “grocery wars” against companies like Amazon Fresh, and Safeway (Todd Bishop, Geekwire).
One thing that is for certain is that grocery delivery services are here to stay. Call it traffic woes, or call it laziness, but people aren’t getting up and heading to the neighborhood grocery like they used to. And if you’re curious, here’s what it’s like to be a professional grocery shopper (Madison Malone Kircher, Tech Insider).
Flexe is a marketplace for warehouse space, taking its cue from companies like AirBnb (Steve Banker, Logistics Viewpoints). The Seattle-based company connects organizations with open warehouse space to those needing some extra room for their products or services.
Recent studies have shown large numbers of businesses see some sort of running-out-of-room issues throughout the year, and Flexe looks to help fill in these gaps in capacity without the costs of purchasing a full time warehouse space.
Flexe is part of the growing B2B “sharing” economy, and along with companies like WeWork, Uber, and Farmlink, is changing the way consumers interact with business and opportunity (Torben Rick, Meliorate).
This Chicago-based company works to get healthy food to the hungry. They do this by connecting restaurants with surplus healthy food to non-profit organizations. The restaurants provide the food, and the non-profits help deliver it to the needy (Jim Dallke, ChicagoInno).
Earlier this year, ZeroPercent played a large role in the mission of ending food waste during Chicago’s Restaurant Giving Week (Paul Biasco, DNAinfo). And if you need even more reason to get behind this awesome enterprise (you shouldn’t), they recently partnered with local brewers, Goose Island, to get a batch of their very own tribute beer (Amy Leibrock, Sustainable America).
Fetch Robotics wants to automate your shipping warehouse. They’re set up to solve the problem of the Amazon (or Google) warehouse. Can you imagine the size of a warehouse that houses all the items available on Amazon? To find the right pieces? To run inventory? Enter “Fetch” and “Freight,” robots that can find products, pick them off the shelves, and get them processed and ready to be shipped to the buyer or consumer (Evan Ackerman, IEEE Spectrum).
…. As technology progresses, companies like Fetch Robotics are going to be on the forefront of robotics.
Before you start to worry about the robots taking over like The Matrix, remember that these sorts of warehousing gigs can be pretty crappy (long hours for low pay), and we’re still a long way away from these kinds of robots taking all of the warehouse operations currently held by humans. But as technology progresses, companies like Fetch Robotics are going to be on the forefront of robotics.
It’s no wonder that a logistics stalwart like UPS isn’t going to take any sort of technology-driven shipping revolution lying down. Hardly. The logistics giant has taken its considerable clout to research ways to be in front of the curve.
Enter 3D printing. 3D printing is set to change the entirety of the logistics industry, and UPS is taking note. They’ve rolled out 3D printing in a number of their shops (Jon Fingas, Engadget). They’ve also commissioned reports outlining the evolution of 3D printing from novelty to practical tool, and how this technology offers great opportunity to the freight giant (Kerry Stevenson, Fabbaloo).
Continuing in the tradition of the revolution of B2B companies changing the shipping game, we’ve come to Cargomatic, who hopes to be the Uber of shippers and carriers (Paul Demery, Internet Retailer).
The app connects businesses that need to ship their products with local carriers that have the capacity to transport the freight. While things started well for the company, recently there has been turmoil, with Cargomatic laying off staff in April of this year (Lara O’Reilly, Business Insider).
With the popularity of Uber, it was only a matter of time before drivers sought to connect directly to their shippers. But just like Uber, the road can sometimes prove to be a bit bumpy. Just ask the residents of Austin.Related: List of the Top Cargo Transport Companies in the USA
Hybrid Air Vehicles
This UK company hopes to develop a hybrid airship that is part blimp and part…something else. Sound like science fiction? You’re damn right. Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) is trying to get their Airlander 10 vehicle off the ground, revitalizing a technology that seemed to have been put out to pasture by the invention and ubiquitousness of plane travel (Guy Norris, Aviation Week).
This bad boy is not your great-grandfather’s zeppelin.
HAV is using state of the art technology to ensure safety, environmental, and energy awareness in their vehicles, while looking to change the way things are shipped, and eventually, the way that people travel. Though they’re still in the testing stages, the future for this vehicle and technology is bright.
This UK company hopes to develop a hybrid airship that is part blimp and part…something else. Sound like science fiction? You’re damn right.
Like other large logistics corporations, Lufthansa, the German airline (and largest in Europe when combined with its subsidiaries), refuses to take a back seat when it comes to the continuing evolution of the logistics and transportation industry. They have partnered with San Fransisco’s Rocketspace in its Logistics Tech Accelerator (Bernadette Tansey, Xconomy).
With its size and clout, Lufthansa is in a unique position to affect the future of technology and how its used in the logistics and transportation industry. By investing in smaller, cutting-edge companies, Lufthansa has proven to be involved and educated in the future of the industry.
You’d be forgiven if your first thought concerning Rolls Royce was not about logistics or freight. Of course not. Rolls Royce! It’s luxury in a name! But earlier this year, the British company unveiled plans that could revolutionize container shipping. The idea is autonomous drone ships, controlled by a remote operations center (Todd Jaquith, Futurism).
Rolls Royce is working to develop technology to run unmanned vessels at lower speeds, saving fuel and CO2 emissions, making the ships better for the environment (Atlas of the Future, Collectively). Much like self-driving cars, this sort of technology brings to mind video games, or remote controlled boats – and I guess that’s what it is. Even if the practical application is a long way off, the excitement of such a technology can be experienced in the here and now.
Lighter-than-air aircrafts are making huge plunges into the shipping industry, perhaps none more so than California-based Worldwide Aeros. These updated zeppelins can change the logistics industry, as well as the world. They are cleaner. They more efficiently use their energy. And they require no runway (Alex Davies, Business Insider).
Other companies like Hybrid Enterprises have partnered with Lockheed Martin to produce vehicles that will transport fuel and other goods to remote locations that don’t have roads and are not easily accessible by plane, train, or truck (Ari Phillips, Fusion).
Though we’re still in the early stages of this development, there are plenty of companies and money being infused into research and implementation of this awesome form of shipping transportation.
Along with Amazon, Google can be accused of taking over the world. They’re everywhere. From your internet browser to your search engine to your cell phone and television. And now, they’re looking to get in your cars too.
Earlier this year, the federal government decided they will treat Google’s driverless car system as a legal driver, further clearing the way for widespread automotive automation (Mark Bergen, Recode). Earlier this month, Google was hiring driverless car testers in Arizona (Kelly Sheridan, InformationWeek). The robot driver revolution is coming, and Google is one of the main movers.
Like Rolls Royce (and a few others on our list), Mercedes isn’t known for its logistics, at least not here in the United States. Yet, Mercedes is one of a handful of car companies that are forging a new path for the future of logistics.
The company’s Future Truck 2025 prototype is semi-autonomous, designed to give drivers a break during transit (Jason Brick, PSFK). And this isn’t the first time Mercedes-Benz has worked to change the shipping game.
Way back in 2012, they looked to help save the environment by reducing air drag on their trucks (Michael Graham Richard, Treehugger). By developing self-driving trucks, the German-based company hopes to cut down on accidents, fuel, and hopefully solve the driver shortage problem the industry has been having.
Volvo is another company known mostly for their cars in the US, but earlier this year, Volvo took part in the UK’s European Truck Platooning Challenge (Jonathan Gitlin, Ars Technica). It’s pretty fantastic.
The trucks are connected via Wi-Fi, and operate as one. If one truck needs to slow down, they all do. Though they’re only semi-autonomous, the technology adds safety to the roads, and can even save on gas. And a HUGE added bonus: they should be able to help with traffic, and rogue semi-trucks in the fast lane.
Nikola Motor Company
With everything that Elon Musk and Tesla have been up to the past few years, it’s no surprise that the idea of an electric truck has been percolating among transportation gurus. Nikola Motor Company is engaging in the concepts of electric trucks, and also not-so-original names (Andrew Dalton, Engadget). But whatever.
If you can come up with trucks that don’t rely on gasoline and change the transportation industry forever, I guess you can call yourself whatever you want. Though they’re still in the planning and concept stages of these trucks, if Nikola can ever figure out how to get them on the road, their namesake would no doubt be proud.
If you can come up with trucks that don’t rely on gasoline and change the transportation industry forever, I guess you can call yourself whatever you want.
This California robotics company is trying to revolutionize healthcare in parts of Rwanda using drones (Nick Paul, Fierce Biotech). In regions that are notoriously difficult to get to, Zipline has partnered with UPS (yes, that UPS), to use Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to deliver blood to those in need.
Something as organic and time-sensitive as stored blood can be extremely tricky, so by cutting down on delivery times, they hope to save lives. This is a huge experiment, and one I’m sure both companies are happy to get behind. Partnering transportation with technology can help change the world.
If successful, they’ll look to ship other medical supplies in the future, maybe even vaccines.
Similar to Zipline, Flirtey is an independent drone delivery service, best known for delivering medical supplies to rural Virginia last year. In fact, they’re famous as being responsible for the first FAA-approved delivery, and will get a place in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. (Sally French, MarketWatch). Very fancy, Flirtey. Very fancy, indeed.
While drones for personal use have blown up over the past few years, it’s good to know that they’re not all being used for surveillance or some other ominous, Orwellian purpose. Flirtey exhibits the good side of drone usage, and has paved the way for more companies like it to take to the skies for humanitarian purposes.
Maersk, one of the largest shipping conglomerates in the world, has developed a software tool called “Eco Voyage.” The program is designed to save time, money, and the environment by developing the perfect voyage plan in order to save fuel (Anish Wankhede, Marine Insight).
With shipping companies looking to cut down on their environmental footprint, services like Eco Voyage prove that you don’t have to cut profits to cut pollution. That a company as large and spread out as Maersk can develop technology to help both the industry and the environment bodes well for the future.
Red Rock Biofuels
Colorado-based Red Rock Biofuels produces low carbon, renewable jet fuel, and last year the company partnered with Fedex to supply the shipping giant with fuel for their planes (Cathy Proctor, Portland Business Journal). Companies like Fedex and Red Rock Biofuels are committing to alternative methods of fuel that directly impact their shipping and logistics means, thus giving validation to their mission of a sustainable energy source (Karen M. Koenig, WoodWorking Network).
If more companies (and their shipping partners) follow suit, our complete reliance on traditional energy sources that are harmful to the environment can be significantly curtailed. That’s a good thing.
Though the hyperloop concept and idea can be traced back to 2013 and Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame, Hyperloop One conducted the first test of the technology in the Nevada desert earlier this month (Rick Stella, Digital Trends).
The idea of shipping freight (and whatever else) at supersonic speeds would be an absolute game changer for transportation and logistics worldwide (Martijn Graat, LogisticsMatter). And though companies like Hyperloop One are still in the early stages of developing this technology to be used on a mass scale, technological progress begets technological progress. The closer we get to this sort of futuristic transportation, the faster the innovations seem to appear. One day, this science fiction-ish technology might steer closer to fact.
These are only 20 companies that are changing the way we move freight, or people, or whatever, in the future. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more like them. We’re always looking to expand our horizons here at FreightPros, so if you know some cool companies that are changing our game, let us know in the comments. For years, no one had ever heard of Google, until…well…until everyone did. On the flip side, remember Nokia?
The future’s always changing, even in the freight shipping industry. We want to change with it, and we’re interested in companies that feel the same way.