Who Needs Drones? The Future of Delivery is Underground

Mole Solutions’ subterranean transport system begins its first pilot program

Image Courtesy of Mole Solutions

After issuing a new set of proposed rules for domestic drones in mid-February, the FAA recently granted Amazon permission to start testing their fleet of delivery drones. While some picture a near future where our skies will fill with buzzing fulfillment copters, dropping books and iPads from the heavens like so much manna, a U.K. company is bringing next-generation delivery back down to earth—or rather, beneath it. Mole Solutions’ innovative concept for transporting goods involves sending capsules full of freight through a series of underground tubes. The capsules would run on an electric track, propelled by magnetic fields like maglev trains. If successful, the idea could cut costs in a number of ways, but, most notably, the system would bypass (and maybe even help clear up) the U.K.’s stupefying traffic problem—in London alone, congestion is thought to cost the economy more than eight billion dollars every year.

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Pneumatic Fantastic: The Enduring Allure of Tube Transportation

The idea of transporting food in pneumatic tubes is getting attention, but it's not new. Take a look at some tube systems, both real and imagined.

In the United States, on average, food travels a very long way from farm to fork (a 2007 estimate puts the figure at 1,000 miles for delivery from producer to retail and an enormous 4,200 miles over the entire supply chain). Food transportation accounts for nearly a ton of the average American's CO2 emissions each year, and a good chunk of the 15.5 million trucks on the road.

But what if we could instead send food around the country through a system of lightweight tubes, like a "transport industry Internet." This is the vision of the U.K.-based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of scientists, project managers, and businessmen. On their website, the group argues that a network of just 10,500 miles of subterranean tubes could connect all major food producers and retailers in the British Isles, taking up to 200,000 trucks off the road and saving 40 million tons of CO2.

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