While driverless trucks may once have seemed like a vision from far off in the future, rapid developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning have placed us on the brink of a new automation age, starting with how we transport goods. Although the logistics sector can sometimes fall behind other early-adopting industries, a 2017 McKinsey study showed that transportation companies using a proactive AI strategy had higher profit margins compared to those that did not.
For example, AI techniques can help with continuous estimation, optimising the routing of delivery traffic to avoid congestion and other disruptions. One European trucking company lowered their fuel costs by 15 per cent by using sensors tracking vehicle performance and driver behaviour. AI technology coached drivers in real-time, telling them when to speed up or slow down, which in turn increased fuel efficiency, reduced delivery times and brought down maintenance costs.
As AI continues to advance the transportation sector, it has become apparent that it is essential for developing effective vaccine delivery. It can ascertain the best delivery route when vaccines are being carried by planes and trucks, forecasting not only the weather but also using historical data to predict land or air traffic to estimate how long it will arrive in specific locations. This is critical when it comes to overcoming the logistical difficulties of COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
There have already been millions of people across the world who have started getting their COVID-19 vaccines. In the UK, over 35 million people have had their first dose, and more than half of all adults in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose. When it comes to wide scale vaccine distribution, AI-augmented simulations can also factor in inputs like mobility data, hospital implementation rates, and current case levels.
Most importantly, cold chain storage is required to preserve the effectiveness of the vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine needs a storage temperature of minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, while the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine must be kept at a temperature of about -70C to be effective. Maintaining these temperatures is crucial but not simple, and a 2019 study estimated that 25% of vaccines are damaged by their time of arrival at the final destination.
To tackle this challenge, Pfizer developed a special transport box around the size of a suitcase, filled with dry ice and installed with GPS trackers. Each reusable box can keep up to 5,000 doses of the vaccine at the right temperature for ten days, as long as it remains unopened. Keeping the container sealed is a crucial element of preserving the vaccine: like any other perishable, they spoil if they get too warm or too cold and have to be thrown away.
The only way to ensure the quality of the vaccine is to stay within the range of the desired temperature when it is delivered. Skymind, the world’s first dedicated AI ecosystem builder, has developed Ultra Low Power AIoT Technology that allows the temperature of the vaccine to be monitored throughout the delivery journey, using Bluetooth intelligent mesh technology.
While Bluetooth technology has existed since the late 1980s, using it as a mesh has only been possible since 2017. Our own proprietary intelligent mesh technology allows the communication between the devices to be more efficient, which means there’s less network congestion and power savings of up to 98%. As a result, the device lasts longer during the transport journey.
In the case of vaccine deliveries, a small card size device that can last more than half a year, is placed into the box alongside the vaccine and tracks the temperature, moisture, and checkpoint location throughout the journey. The device can share the temperature and communicate it to any laptop or mobile phone, as long as it has Bluetooth. With this technology, the box does not need to be opened by a person at any point until the vaccination is ready to be delivered.
There are plenty of challenges when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine delivery but they have provided an unprecedented demand on the solutions that are possible with AI. Ultimately, billions of people worldwide will require at least one dose, making transportation and logistics more critical than ever. Using AI solutions to develop and strengthen the cold chain for vaccine distribution will guarantee that vaccines are not lost and help us overcome the pandemic quicker than we otherwise could.
Find out more about Digital Transformation Week North America, taking place on November 9-10 2021, a virtual event and conference exploring advanced DTX strategies for a ‘digital everything’ world.