March 12, 2024

Automation at the Seams: Bridging the Gap for Logistics Companies and Enabling AV Trucking

Learn how Newlab and partners have pioneered solutions to overcome the 'last five feet' challenge in logistics, driving the future of seamless autonomous vehicle trucking.

The Problem: What’s known as “the last five feet” stands in the way between fully automated trucking which will help decarbonize the logistics industry.

The Opportunity: Newlab and Michigan Central have brought together a wide group of players to apply industry knowledge and technology to solve this problem. This includes, logistics industry pioneers Crowley Logistics and Universal Logistics, Google Cloud, the University of Michigan, FreightRoll and Gaussin. 

The “Last Five Feet” And Why It Matters

As the logistics industry grapples with fragile supply chains and faces global environmental concerns, the need for automation has never been more critical. While noteworthy progress has been made in autonomous technologies for various shipping operations, such as long-haul over-the-road (OTR) trucking and warehouse yard vehicles, the real challenge lies in seamlessly integrating these technologies across domains within the logistics process. 

Despite seeming insignificant, the gap between each domain, referred to as "the last five feet," stands out as a substantial obstacle for logistics providers looking to fully unlock the benefits of end-to-end automation. Today, the industry operates in a hybrid human-machine environment, wherein work is primarily performed within the confines of humans employing machines to optimize current workstreams. 

As Newlab's research uncovered the roadmap toward an end-to-end automated future, it became apparent that to realize this desired state, it would begin with machines informing human-led operations on route to machines informing machines. Although complete systems-level automation is still several years off, the logistics industry must align its strategic goals with the challenges that bridging this gap in automation will require; otherwise, they risk losing out on the largely positive sweeping changes that full automation will bring.

With logistics industry pioneer Crowley, Newlab has identified three focus areas to address in this pilot: 

  • In-gating
  • Inspection
  • Mixed-traffic navigation

These focus areas are foundational to building a future that addresses the current gaps at the intersection between key automated domains. 

About Newlab’s Automated Trucking Hub Pilot

The pilot took place within Detroit's Transportation Innovation Zone (TIZ) - a special permitting zone that Newlab and Michigan Central helped to establish with the Office of Mobility to allow for the testing of novel technologies on a faster timeline. 

Newlab has partnered with both established companies and startups developing new technology to demonstrate solutions in real-world pilots. 

  • Crowley Logistics - Crowley provides end-to-end supply chain solutions, streamlining logistics from production to delivery.
  • Universal Logistics - Universal is a full-service provider of customized transportation and logistics solutions.
  • Google Cloud - Google Cloud offers cloud computing services, powering businesses with data storage, computing, and analytics.
  • The University of Michigan - The University of Michigan is a top-ranked public research university in Ann Arbor.
  • FreightRoll - FreightRoll is a yard orchestration platform that helps shippers automate and digitize their drivers' yard journeys.
  • Gaussin - Gaussin specializes in creating smart, zero-emission vehicles for freight transport and people mobility, catering to both off-road and on-road needs.

Overcoming “the last five feet”

The University of Michigan deployed its ImpLi-Fi light wave-based communications system in collaboration with FreightRoll's yard management system (YMS).

This integration allows Autonomous Vehicle (AV) trucks equipped with LEDs to communicate information packets via light waves with both manned and unmanned entry points. The truck utilizes light waves to share its manifest data and point of origin. The entry point infrastructure verifies the data and reverses the process, using light waves to direct the truck and help it navigate the facility. 

Even though AV trucks can autonomously travel hundreds of miles on public roadways, this technology allows them to overcome the hurdles of private infrastructure in "the last five feet" and deliver end-to-end autonomous service. This technology can operate in a signal-denied environment, eliminating the need for a cellular or radio signal and creating a unique level of data security. 

Before an AV truck can be released from a facility, it undergoes a Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection detention period. Currently, this inspection is completed by on-site personnel, which drastically impacts the operational window of an AV and the rate at which information can be documented. Newlab has partnered with Google Cloud and their machine learning technology to develop visual detection devices using an array of cameras that scan vehicle conditions and document required information. 

The pilot also aims to improve Intra-yard operations through our partnership with Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) and By embracing automation and closing the gap in integration, the logistics industry can forge a path toward enhanced efficiency, sustainability, and competitiveness. The journey ahead will require collaboration, innovation, and a shared commitment to a future where automation truly transforms the way goods and services move across the globe.

Want to partner with Newlab on forging a new path on an industry problem? See how we work with corporations.

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