The destination, Long Beach California, had already been pre-programmed into the container ship. The onboard ship computers then confirmed the plotted course and immediately sent the course plan to a Port Central Control Unit for confirmation and permission to set sail. The pilotless tug boats were automatically summoned to assist the pilotless container ship. From there, the tugs entered the area and like a sea faring ballet moved into position around the gigantic container ship, slowly nudging it into position to start its journey across the Pacific. Updated weather data allowed the computers to update the path slightly to steer clear of a storm brewing, having the monster ship head slightly north toward Fukuoka, Japan.
Once clear of the impending storm, the ship heads out to open waters and makes its way to the USA. The trip takes about 21 days.
California has strict rules in place for ships to avoid various areas and to keep speeds below a certain amount. All rules, which are complex in some areas off the California coast were already preprogrammed and the ship handles the environmentally sensitive areas flawlessly.
By now, the container ship has already notified the Ship-To-Shore surveillance computer system that it has arrived and is awaiting permission to enter the harbor and drop anchor for unloading. A signal from the STS computer alerts the tugboat system and identifies what boats will be available to assist the Chinese megaship to enter the harbor and be positioned for unloading. This data is sent to the container ship along with an estimated wait time. Today is a very busy day and the ship must wait offshore for another day or two. This information is sent to the Roster and arrival dates of the goods on board the ship are sent to the final destinations, updating the shipping dates for each bulk container.
Finally, the Chinese seafaring ship is alerted that the tugboats are on their way. And again, like when the ship left Shanghai, the tugboats automatically and almost lovingly nudge the huge vessel into the berth. Once secured, the Chinese ship asks for permission to be unloaded. Permission is granted (PG).
The PG signal alerts the loading booms and cranes to get in place to start unloading the bulk containers. Again, massive clouds of drones hover to scan container bar codes as they are automatically removed. Many of the containers are equipped with RFIDS that make the scanning faster. The onshore computer checks the ship’s manifest against information sent earlier before the ship embarked to ensure that what left Shanghai, made it to Long Beach. The drones also, using cameras, scan the condition of each of the bulk containers checking to make sure there is no damage. Damaged containers are set aside as rejects and subsequently loaded back on the ship once unloading is complete. Delivery information is automatically updated to show that the customer’s orders were canceled or delayed and will be resent if requested. The inventory of goods within the damaged container is sent to the Chinese supplier alerting them that their orders were not delivered due to damage. Before the day is out, a new container back in China will have already been filled and sent to the Shanghai port for delivery to California.
Back in Long Beach, the older loading system had been modified to load containers directly onto a series of flat bed rail cars. Each set of trains delivers the containers to positions outside the Port Authority Area to be automatically transferred to waiting trucks for delivery to various distribution points.
Each truck receives a bulk container, the 40 ft container is scanned by a drone, and the coordinates for the intended distribution center is fed into the truck’s automatic piloting system.
The truck departs, in this case for a Target Store Distribution Center located northwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This is the dead of winter and roads are treacherous. The auto-piloted truck is alerted to icy and snowy conditions at various points along the route. The truck contacts the distribution center with updated delivery time information. The truck reroutes its path to head south through Phoenix, Tuscon, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Wichita, and finally Cedar Rapids, missing 90% of the snowy, icy weather.
Three days later, the truck arrives at the distribution center and backs into an empty bay.
A state-of-the art Yaskawa Motoman robotic system moves forward and scans the container bar code and confirms that the goods have arrived at the correct distribution center. The Motoman opens the container and enters, methodically unloading the products onto an integrated roller conveyor system. The boxes move past a scanner system that checks the goods against the list it has in memory to ensure that these are the correct goods ordered. Stationary scanners inspects the items from all angles to ensure there is no damage.
Another Motoman lifts the goods from the roller conveyor and deposits them on a Kiva system that then takes the goods to the correct rack for storage to await ordering from the Target Stores. The whole unloading process is complete in a matter of minutes.
A “stock replenish” signal is received from a nearby Target store that the distribution center supplies.
Bulk amounts of the stocked items are gathered and again handled by the Yaskawa Motoman system used for loading the delivery truck. The truck leaves the bay and its auto-pilot system guides the truck to the receiving dock at the store which is only 90 minutes away. Another Yaskawa Motoman system unloads the truck, turning over the goods to the Kiva system to stock the back room.
An order by an individual at the Cedar Rapids Target had already been placed for one of the goods. He used his iPhone Target App to order, then purchase the item using Apple Pay. There are no cashiers. There are no registers. There is no need for any.
The individual waits at the receiving area as the Kiva system retrieves the item from the stock. Once delivered to the individual, the transaction is complete.
Welcome to the future.