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Freight tech has big upside, Wired UK founding editor says

Technology is reshaping the transportation and logistics world, bringing innovation, opportunities and threats to existing ways of doing business, journalist David Rowan, founding editor of Wired UK, said during a keynote at Transparency19.

“Freight wasn’t one of the first, but it’s deep in it now. There are billions to be made if you see ahead,” Rowan said on May 8, during the third day of the Atlanta event.

For Rowan’s forthcoming book Non-Bullsh*t Innovation: Radical Ideas from the World’s Smartest Minds, he traveled to 20 countries looking for startups that deliver the disruption that they promise.

At Transparency19, Rowan delved into the companies and trends that are transforming freight and logistics, noting that innovation came come from both startups and legacy businesses.

He noted how Yara International, a Norweigan fertilizer company, developed an autonomous cargo drone to replace 40,000 truckloads. “It was an unusual move for a fertilizer company,” Rowan said, noting that it then became a secondary business for Yara.

Data collection and tracking are also giving unprecedented visibility. Rowan noted how the Windward ship-monitoring service has migrated from governments and intelligence agencies to insurance companies.

“These businesses couldn’t have existed 10 years ago. Now data is being used to find business models around freight, Rowan said.

Rowan expects to see more artificial intelligence and automation, with “more logistics without people pushing vehicles.”

The self-driving truck startup Starsky is case in point that smaller players can make an impact in autonomous vehicles.

“You don’t have to be Uber to have a budget to do this,” he said.

Despite his own skepticism over blockchain technology, he noted that it was beginning to show real utility.

“The sector is going to be pretty important over three-to-five year scale,” he concluded.

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Nate Tabak, Canada Correspondent

Nate Tabak is a journalist, editor and producer in Toronto. He covers Canada for FreightWaves, with a keen interest on the cross-border economic relationship with the United States. Nate spent seven years working as an investigative editor and reporter based in Kosovo. He covered everything from corruption to the country’s emerging wine industry. He also reported across the Balkans and investigated Albania’s multibillion-dollar marijuana industry with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Nate grew up in Berkeley, Calif. He enjoys exploring Toronto with his wife and is always looking forward to his next meal.

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