Request Info

Tech check-in: Is the future of shipping here yet?

Advances in technology continue at a rapid pace, steering us toward a future undreamt of by many. But most technological advances feature both a lot of hype and early setbacks. Where are we at with the latest tech and shipping trends?

Tech trends in shipping

When the originating company that would become Cole International first opened doors, trucks had only just begun to be used for intercontinental shipping. The Eisenhower interstate highway was a twinkle in the eyes of policymakers. 190197783_m_normal_none

Fast forward to today, where shipping moves around the world via trucks, ocean liners and airplanes at a breakneck pace—and advancements in technology are moving with it just as quickly. 

Of course, not everything we see and comment on comes to pass. In the past, we explored certain trends in tech that have yet to come to fruition as expected, like self-driving cars, or are not yet being widely used. In this post, we take stock of the latest trends emerging at the intersection of technology and shipping.

Smart containers

In previous posts, we discussed the idea of smart trailers and took a look at the burgeoning blockchain technology and its relationship with container shipping. Now, the focus is moving to smart containers.

As a concept, smart containers make sense; after all, digitalizing shipping has the potential to improve supply chain efficiency and sustainability. But will it? Let’s look at the pros and cons:


  • Smart containers are equipped with sensors that can be set to collect data about nearly everything – from the temperature inside the container to the container’s exact location. Having this much insight into the insides of the container can be helpful for importers shipping food, for example, and thus potentially lead to a reduction in spoiled goods.
  • These sensors could also potentially assist in greater fuel efficiency, for example by being programmed to sense weather information which could then be used to change the route of the liner.


  • As with most smart things that make up the Internet of Things (IoT), there is a risk of being hacked and other cybersecurity concerns.
  • Implementation in general may be a hurdle to overcome. Shipping containers are generally made of steel and, not surprisingly, made to be sturdy. Thus, there may be a challenge to the sensors’ ability to transmit data.
  • The nature of tracking information being shared across an entire supply chain could result in significant costs at each link of the chain, whether to incorporate or subscribe to paid programs to access the tracking data, or to invest in other technology that allows access and analysis. 

Artificial intelligence and trucking

For a few years now, it seems the buzz on trucking revolved around self-driving trucks. This conversation also appears to have shifted as of late. If anything, it seems the goal of getting self-driving trucks on the road has reduced in urgency in favour of exploring the potential of using artificial intelligence (AI) to work alongside human truck drivers to increase efficiency and move the industry forward.

What might this look like? It has already been somewhat demonstrated in early trials of platooning, wherein a human-driven truck leads a convoy of trucks equipped with automated and connectivity technology. It could possibly look like a scenario wherein AI is programmed to do the more menial tasks that drivers once did, thereby enabling drivers to do high-value work. Ideally, it might leverage human-AI pairings when it comes to big picture organization, as AI can be programmed to spot inefficiencies in fleet management, for example.

Like anything, there are pros and cons. Here are a few to consider:


  • Greater safety controls in place to potentially minimize driver error and reduce accidents
  • Fuel monitoring and reporting from AI can help fleet managers design systems for greater fuel efficiency
  • Better route optimization, as AI will be able to provide real-time data on weather, traffic flow, etc.


  • Potential for reduced job opportunities for humans
  • There is still resistance to self-driving vehicles by a percentage of the public; self-driving trucks could be a tough sell
  • The cost to implement an AI-driven program will doubtless be high—and who's paying?

Beyond the potential for job losses, it’s possible that engaging a human-AI approach (as opposed to solely automating truck driving) may yield fewer cons. If anything, one of the challenges with self-driving trucks comes down to the dynamics between driver and AI. It’s a learning curve for truckers, especially ones long in the tooth, to suddenly have certain technologies running in the background, making decisions without their input as the driver. Working with an approach that seeks to engage both AI and the humans involved could ultimately be the most humane way forward.

Drone delivery

If the self-driving cars hubbub didn’t catch your attention, doubtless the drone delivery cacophony did. Drone delivery has been on the radar, pun intended, for several years now, notably with Amazon and DHL working up drone delivery services, neither of which are currently running. (Amazon was reportedly hung up on the extensive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, while DHL determined their drone delivery proof-of-concept was not commercially viable.)

Meanwhile, Japan and Ireland have both piloted successful drone deliveries. In Canada, a successful partnership between Edmonton International Airport and Drone Delivery Canada is approaching the end of the first year of delivering cargo by drone. 

So, what gives? Why are we not seeing drones everywhere? Here are a few pros and cons to consider:


  • Drones could be remarkably helpful for medical delivery and humanitarian purposes.
  • Time savings – as you might imagine, drones don’t get stuck in traffic!
  • Ability to deliver to remote places.


  • Regulation might be a significant challenge for many companies.
  • There could be an increase in job losses amongst delivery drivers.
  • Gaining public acceptance may take time, notably in the area of privacy, as the potential exists for drones to use GPS as well as cameras to locate their delivery points, many of which may be in cities and subdivisions.

A strong history builds a strong future

The fun thing about the future is that it's always unfolding before our eyes. We are constantly co-creating it moment to moment. Will any of these shipping trends become permanent realities? Only time will truly tell.

At Cole International, our departments work together to keep your goods moving seamlessly around the globe. Whatever the future brings, we're prepared. Our long history of moving goods successfully has allowed us to build the relationships and resilience that fortifies our optimism for the future. From freight forwarding to customs brokerage, plus all the support you need from a full-service logistics company, we've got you covered. Contact us today and we'll get you on your way. 

Informing our customers. It's what we do.

Contact us today!

Back to blog list