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Why drive a 4,000 lb car for only 20 lb of groceries? Or a 1 oz prescription? This behavior is routine, but is it sustainable? Or necessary?



CargoFish Physical Internet is a network utility for automatic handling, movement, and delivery of standard parcel containers of any payload, over any distance, between any two points on the network.  This can be groceries from store to home, prescriptions from pharmacy to home, trash from home to recycling or disposal facility, express courier services between businesses, etc.  As the cell phone is the Star Trek communicator, so CargoFish is the Teleportation Machine.  The advantages over the present method of a human driver operating a heavy vehicle to move these trillions of small objects between billions of origin-destination pairs are many.  All major quantities of fluids, either literal or figurative one, are moved today by installed utility systems, wherever population density exceeds a given threshold.  Traffic congestion at major shopping centers shows us exactly where the threshold of demand for CargoFish will prove adequate, and where the relief from the burden of driving will be most beneficial.  CargoFish can do for parcel what telephone and Internet do for voice and data: let you access what you want, when you want, where you are.  Currently only mail, parcel, delivery and courier services provide such a service for any solid payload, at great expense of time and energy, by people driving vehicles weighing hundreds or thousands of times more than the item(s) being moved.  We should not let the fact that this new system is needed be reason not to build it.  That is a complete contradiction in reasoning.  Would we be enjoying the benefits of any of our existing utilities had such logic prevailed when they were proposed?  Deep and thorough analysis of the CargoFish Physical Internet concept is warranted, as the potential gains of its implementation are significant.  This proposal will detail the results of such an analysis, and support the conclusion that CargoFish Physical Internet merits further development and is worthy of support in the endeavor.

Category of the action

Building efficiency: Physical Action

What actions do you propose?

What do I propose?  Let me start by outlining what it is I am doing, apart from what I am proposing. 

I am continuing development and fabrication of the prototype of this new utility system, in my garage and in my back yard. 

What I propose is that in this contest, this proposal be advanced at least to the finals, such that I am invited to give a presentation on the project this fall in Boston, at the MIT Climate Colab Conference.  This I am sure will help advance the project, whether or not this or one of the other proposals is chosen as the overall winner.  However, should this proposal wind up winning overall, the prize money would be used solely for further development of the project. 

The next steps in development include completing fabrication of the first prototype vehicle, the first prototype operational test track, with at least a few convergences, divergences, and  'stations', then at least one additional vehicle, then outfitting the sensor packages on both vehicles and demonstrating simultaneous multi-vehicle operations between randomly chosen origin-destination pairs.  This will be followed by building adding additional vehicles as necessary until system operational demonstrations have become successful in generating the necessary support to move this project into a first actual in service installation.  This is no easy task by a single person in their spare time, after working a full time job and handling the responsibilities of being a husband and father of three, and frequently a volunteer for youth sports.  It can be done though, alone if necessary, but easily achievable on short order with any significant level of outside support.

This plan proceeds with minimum risk, so as to determine through actual testing as much as possible, as early as possible in spending of money and time.

The first chosen installation site, and gage, will depend on the will of those funding such installation, and so could be a new suburban residential development, an existing town, a new construction hospital (choosing this instead of a pneumatic tube system), an industrial complex, an office complex, an airport baggage handling system, a new logistics sorting hub, etc.  Expectations would be for a smaller and less expensive initial system, followed by additional small systems in the same region, such that subsequently the connection of these systems is financed so as to build a larger system taking ever greater advantage of the network effect.

Why would a hospital choose this new technology over available pneumatic tube systems?  Because pneumatic tube systems cannot easily be extended.  Buying one would be like getting a typewriter instead of a computer.  Typewriters do not connect to the Internet.  Computers, because they can connect to the Internet, are so much more valuable, in so many more ways, than if they could not connect.  CargoFish is technology that allows for arbitrary range and connectivity in automated movement of small parcels.  Advanced degrees in healthcare include courses on facility planning.  Text books on the topic include chapters on the pneumatic tube system.  Building a major facility without one would be considered foolish.  One day, it will be considered foolish to build any such facility without CargoFish.

Once the initial installation(s) have clearly established the utility, indeed the necessity, of such systems... then simply manage the exploding demand for expansion.  The assertion that such systems are necessary is based on their advantages versus the current methods.  Under such circumstances, it becomes impossible to compete by continuing to do business by the method made obsolete (in this case, expending the large quantities of precious energy and human time for the transport of so many small payloads).

I know that there are many implementation details that I have not yet revealed in this proposal, and for this there will be some that will say, "This cannot work."  I would remind all that for the first few years following the first controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight by the Wright Brothers on December 17th, 1903, there were many debates and public proclamations about the futility of the effort.  In Boston, Buckminster Fuller remembered the debates circa 1904 among the academics about how the accomplishments claimed by the Wright Brothers were impossible, according to the laws of physics.  In France, there was a famous printed bit that went something like this... "Either they have a flying machine or they do not have one, either they have flown or they have not, they are either flyers or they are liars."  This expression of doubt was graciously retracted circa 1908, after Wilbur demonstrated flight in France.

Please for now let those missing details of the technological implementation of this concept be like the magicians' secrets of the trade.  We do not always find out exactly how the magician accomplishes the trick, but he does, and if and when it is revealed to us we see that it really is quite simple.  Right now it is unfortunate for me that I have not been able to spare the time and effort to have this invention patented, and so cannot explain it publicly, or it would forever become inelligible to patent.  Under the present economic system, patents are necessary to allow those investing in new technologies to get a return on those investments.  What incentive would remain for anybody to invest in this project if it became un-patentable?

I will let this be clearly revealed:  this is not magnetic levitation, nor linear induction motors, nor any other exotic technology.  It is simple, reliable, and inexpensive electric motor driven wheels.  I have found that with these technologies, vehicles can be made to move on tracks.  Please allow me at least that much belief without seeing.  As for the control scheme... does anybody really believe that there are no suitable control schemes?  Or that I have not selected and developed one?

Due to the arbitrary assignment of word limits to different topic sections of this application, some other subjects will have to be addressed here, where there is room to do so.

How much will emissions be reduced?

This is a question whose answer really depends on how much of this concept and technology gets implemented, and how quickly.  Presently, US road traffic sums up to about 3 trillion vehicle miles traveled, VMT, per year.  Of this, about a third is commercial traffic, and two thirds personal.  Based on US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, BTS, data, around 15% of household driving is for shopping.  So about 300 billion VMT per year are for shopping.  Since average private auto fuel economy is still less than 30 mpg, we can conservatively allow that figure as our fuel rate, and we have 10 billion gallons of gas per year burned for shopping. 

What share of that can be offset by this system?

This question is best answered by examining what share of households are connected to the current set of utilities.  Here are the percentages of the 116 million US households that are connected:

electricity: 99%

water: 85% (but these 85% of households house 94% of the population)

sewer: 75%

gas: 60%

The economics of installation for the CargoFish Physical Internet utility closely follow water, gas, and sewer.  Where population density will support an average of about 50 customers per mile, its installation will be economically viable.  Unlike the above utilities though, there will be reason to interconnect adjacent systems for CargoFish.  This is because it is also like telephone and the Internet.  It is a network utility, whose value grows exponentially with how well connected it becomes.  Back to the analysis, though, the gas and water systems accomplish this level of market penetration with about 2 million miles of mains each.  For comparison, there are about 4 million miles of roads in the US.  So the final conclusion is that CargoFish can ultimately be installed so as to directly serve at least 90% of the US population, with about 2 million miles of twin mains.  This should allow displacement of at least half of all shopping trips, so about 5 billion gallons of gas per year can be saved.  I believe a gallon of gas burned produces about 20 lbs of CO2, so that comes to about 100 billion lbs, or 50 million tons annually.  As a percentage of total CO2 produced in the US annually by road traffic, it is about 5%.  But... this is only the effect of direct offset of personal shopping travel.  This concept can displace current mail delivery practices, courier services, and trash removal.  It can also change wholesale delivery routes to retailers.  On top of that, this technology can easily scale to a larger gage, allowing a backbone network to serve the capillary system.  Regular intercity long haul trucking could be displaced to a large degree.  And finally, if the construction of this backbone is planned in advance to one day allow for movement of people, (designed for human occupancy, etc.,) then in a third phase, dual mode personal vehicle travel will displace a portion of current car traffic.

Remember... the specific energy requirements of this system are orders of magnitude less that rubber tired road traffic, and the initial capillary vehicles are so much more closely matched to their payloads than cars are to groceries and conveniences, that the comparison is almost like burning no fuel at all.  In reality it will amout to about 1% as much energy consumed for capillary freight, and about 20% as much energy consumed for the larger gage, later phases.

All things considered, over the course of a few decades, this concept and supporting technology can reduce petroleum fuel consumption for road transportation in the US by over 50%.  This is not an exaggeration.

Other benefits:

There will be an reduction in handling of consumer packaged goods, resulting in greater affordability.  There will be an economic boom for the adoption and installation of this technology.  There will be far greater business efficiencies, as this will provide better and cheaper courier services than ever before.  There will be reductions in traffic congestion, and road accidents.  People unable to drive for whatever reason: temporary injury, permanent disability, poverty, etc. will have better access to goods and services than ever before.

Just to touch again upon the vast improvement in efficiency in employing a system such as this... one CargoFish vehicle can travel half a mile for as much energy as is consumed just starting a typical car engine, and several dozen more miles on the energy used by that car just taxiing into and out of the parking lot.

In summary, there are so many benefits, and so much to be gained, that it baffles me that anybody could fail to see it.

Who will take these actions?

The core actions of remaining design details and fabrication of the demonstrator I can handle myself, with only modest resources.  Individuals associated with the Physical Internet Initiative will be recruited to assist in arranging the necessary government approvals, and marketing to obtain financing and customer(s).  Individuals from this campaign, and those that can be recruited from an FHWA invitation only conference I have just been invited to this November.  No matter what economic system is in place, the investment will pay off in multiples over time, so these actions will be motivated economically, without having to mandate or enforce restraints on people.  This is a significant advantage over many other proposals designed to reduce emissions.  This proposal is designed to do a job better than it is currently done - faster, cheaper, more convenient, etc., and at the same, to drastically reduce emissions.

Another potential source of future collaborators will be a transportation conference sponsered by the US Federal Highway Administration this November, held simultaneously in San Francisco, and MacLean, VA, to which I have been invited to present as a result of responding to a recent RFI issued by the FHWA for novel surface transportation systems.  Based on the responses from attendees at the last conference I attended, my first, the First International Physical Internet Conference, May 2014, Laval University, Quebec, I expect to gain at least several more useful connections.  For the IPIC, the organizer waived the attendance fee so that I could make it, and called attention to the entire gathering at the opening plenary to me and the CargoFish concept.  I am certainly pleased that I did attend, and now look forward to this upcoming FHWA event.

Other than that... I do what I can to recruit and attract financial support.  If none can be found, then I will simply make progress alone until at the best pace possible until better circumstances can be arranged.

Where will these actions be taken?

The number and variety of locations which could benefit from the first installation of an installed permanent system are so numerous as to almost defy quantifying.  A good analogy of our current situation would be to imagine that all of humanity has a large mansion that we find necessary to keep heated.  It has many walls that could use more insulation, but also many windows that have been left open.  First shutting any one of the open windows would begin to retain heat in the building more effectively than any other action.  The effect should be noticeable immediately in reducing the cold wind in the area local to the window, but much more noticeable throughout the building once most or all of the windows have been shut.  Until the windows are shut, better insulation on the walls will have little overall effect, and switching fuel source will only determine which fuel will be wasted first.

Leaving the analogy behind... market factors will determine the first installation because it will depend on who is the first paying customer, and where would they like it installed.  The project has just been engaged to deliver a white paper for replacement of a large commercial airport baggage handling system with this technology, and another for installation of a system in the historic center of a centuries old european city.

Personally, I always expected to make inroads into the existing market for pneumatic systems.  This consists of three main factions:  point to point systems such as at bank and pharmacy drive throughs, hospital network systems, and neighborhood vacuum trash removal systems.  CargoFish will focus on the network and neighborhood systems, and simply make the drive throughs obselete.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

Compare achievable reductions between this proposal, and the 2011 winning proposal, Personal Rapid Transit Grids.  PRT systems have been installed, and costs run north of $10 million per mile.  CargoFish is a "capillary" gage system, and ten miles can be installed per million dollars, so it is 100x more affordable.  True, only 10 to 15 percent of personal car and light truck traffic is for moving things, but a complete network could capture almost all of this share.  Any PRT system over the same area would be competing to capture market share of personal car and light truck traffic for any purpose, but due to having only 1% as many system miles would capture at most that percentage of its market.

Most of 15% is far more than only 1% of the whole.  And since CargoFish uses only 2 Whrs per mile, while PRT uses one to three hundred, the same level of investment in CargoFish will reduce emissions at least 500x more effectively than the winning proposal from 2011.

What are other key benefits?

Other key benefits are almost too numerous to list:

Reduced traffic congestion

Reduced petroleum consumption

Reduced dependence on foreign oil

Reduced traffic accidents

Fewer animals killed by vehicles

Less disruption of wildlife

Less traffic noise

More livable neighborhoods

Elimination of "food desserts"

Reduced distribution handling

Reduced cost of goods

Greater free time

Equal access for the handicapped

Faster exchange of physical things between businesses

Technology extension into personal transportation

Energy requirements so low that hand crank or pedal generators can serve as emergency backup

Electric powered, so able to use any fuel

Elimination of garbage trucks

Elimination of waste pileup prior to pickup day

Numerous business spin-offs from this revolutionary change

Faster access to most goods

Short notice access to a wider variety of goods

Will end the current US economic recession

Profitable to the financial backer(s)

People will freely choose to use this

Government subsidies/mandates unnecessary

What are the proposal’s costs?

This proposal can be realized for very little at its start, and its utilization will return value such that it will yield profit.  So its cost will be only a loan, and the net cost will be negative.  It will be a gain for everybody, ultimately trillions of dollars a year in averted waste.  These savings will be distributed as lower costs for consumers, paying jobs for system installers and operators, and returns on investment for financial backers.

That said, from where the project presently is, a suitable proof of concept portable demonstration system can be completed for less than twenty-five thousand dollars.  First actual in service installation cost will depend on scope and scale of the first contracted system, but will likely be in the range of five to thirty million dollars.

So far, it has cost its inventor about ten thousand dollars spent, about that much again in lost revenue, and at least four thousand hours of research and development effort.

Time line

Within the short term, the project demonstrator will be completed and perfected, and marketed and contracted for first installation.  Its success will lead to a phase of rapid replication of many separate systems.  By the medium term, connections between adjacent systems will begin, and expansion into the larger phase two gage will begin.  Once this larger gage backbone has been built out well enough near the end of the medium term, the third phase utilization of this system as part of a dual mode personal rapid transit system will begin to take hold, and in the long term, this technology will finally challenge the dominance of the petroleum powered car for personal transportation.

Related proposals

The Erie Canal was a similar proposal in its day, and proved profitable before its completion.  Railroads were proposed before being built, and most of those worked out well, too.  Likewise, municipal water systems obviated the need to commute to and from the river or other water source.

John C. Houbolt's proposal for the Apollo mission mode was similar.  He advocated moving only what mattered.  NASA eventually acknowledged it was the best method, and the US reached the moon before the decade was out.

Presently, there are no other proposals at all like this one, either in this Colab or outside of it.  A few might point to the low capacity utilization factor of a 5 passenger car having typically only the driver, and suggest carrying another one or two people by various means, but no others look at the waste of using an entire car just to haul a bag or two of stuff from the store, and no others suggest employing a fleet of small and efficient autonomous electric cars to solve this problem.


CargoFish:  A Network Utility for Parcel Exchange, 1st International Physical Internet Conference, Quebec City, Canada

19th Century History,

Report on the Subject of Roads and Canals, Albert Gallatin, US Secretary of the Treasury, 1808

Pneumatic Despatch, Professor C. A. Carus-Wilson, M.A., Journal of the  Society of Arts, No. 2,467, Vol. XLVIII, Friday, March 2, 1900.

Enchanted Rendezvous - John C. Houbolt and the Genesis of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous Concept, James R. Hansen, 1999

CargoFish Physical Internet, 2013 Philips Innovation Fellows, hosted by Indiegogo

Contribiting Papers to the First International Physical Internet Conference, Laval University, Quebec, May 28-30, 2014

This fellow is betting on same day delivery... I hope he isn't betting the farm!, VC in Vacationland, May 17, 2014, retrieved June 3, 2014.

Arbitrary Range Immidiate Dispatch Autonomous Small Article Transportation System, this proposal entry in last year's contest.

The comments page for this proposal contains many concerns, accolades, and responses.

More will be added on a subsequent update.