Last Mile Distribution Utility System by Dark Horse Transport
Distribute fast moving consumer goods as easily and affordably as tap water via a new utility system specifically designed for the purpose.
Implement a pilot system for last mile distribution of containerized fast moving consumer goods, like a drive through tube transit, but using a different technology so as to provide high efficiency, low cost, and network capabilities. This 'pilot' system need only total a few thousand feet of 'track', connecting just a few dozen households with a grocer. Through this enclosed track network and between send and receive appliances on it, employ a fleet of small, container carrying, 'track drones'.
This addresses the problem of extreme inefficiency in last mile transport. (Think of the grocery store... only one or two truck bays out back... hundreds of parking spots out front... for every truck delivery there are a thousand car visits! Which is the greater expense of fuel and contribution to traffic congestion?) Drones are abundant in technical news stories for last mile transport, but always flying, which uses orders of magnitude more energy per unit payload mile than surface transport, is actually far more expensive, and has a plethora of other problems.
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
Build small (8" diameter) enclosed 'slot car track' together with 'track drones' designed to traverse in it. Make these 'track drones' capable of carrying a standard payload container sized to fit two one gallon jugs laying on their side, end to end. Design such that while the track has diverging and merging paths like a little electric slot car freeway system, there are no moving parts on the track. Have the path selection technology on each 'track drone', (which is referred to as an 'onboard switch'). In a 'vendateria' area common to each group of adjacent households, let this track junction with its own sort of vending machine, for delivery of goods ordered.
Secure funding to accomplish this through a variety of means, including perhaps winning this competition, applying to NYSERDA PON 3249, and seeking angel investor funding, to mention a few.
Operate this pilot system for the media exposure, as well as a real user test. See how many households, once able to order groceries on mere minutes notice for pennies per delivery, look forward to giving up such a system and returning to previous means of provisioning their pantry.
While in service, measure the energy usage so as to document the extreme reduction in consumption. Audit the number of automobile shopping trips avoided so as to show how much benefit results from so little investment.
Who will take these actions?
The author of this proposal has designed and built a rudimentary prototype, and with modest additional resources can complete the proposed actions through his own efforts and by managing and subcontracting out portions of the work.
Where will these actions be taken?
Initial pilot implementation will be sited as close to author's home city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as possible, in order to facilitate the project.
After th pilot has has been demonstrated and proven the benefits of such systems, then proceed with widespread implementation and interconnection, worldwide.
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
Since this pilot system replaces driving to the convenience store with utility delivery, we need to compare the specific energy consumption of these two modes. We'll start with driving. Driving a reasonably fuel efficient car, such as about 34 mpg, results in 'tank-to-wheels' consumption of about 3,400 BTU/mile, based on the widely accepted typical energy content of 115,000 BTU per gallon of gas. To reach specific energy per unit payload mile, we need to assume the payload quantity. Based on available convenience store and grocery statistics, and corroborated by numerous first hand observations, typical convenience store payloads average 2 lbs, and grocery store about 20 lbs. These being 1/1000th and 1/100th of a ton, respectively, we have then two data points for BTU per ton-mile by car, for the lighter payload at 3.4 million BTU ton-mile, and the heavier one only 340,000 BTU per ton-mile. The last mile distribution utility system prototype operates at a power level between 30 and 60 Watts, at 30 mph, carrying 16 lbs. This works out to between 500 and 1,000 miles per kWhr, (or conversely, 1 to 2 Watt hours per mile), which at 3412 BTU energy per kWhr is only about 3.5 to 7 BTU per mile. As the payload is only 16/2000 the of a ton, we have around 500 to 1000 BTU per ton mile. This being more than two orders of magnitude energy savings, we see that the difference is significant. This matters immensely, as US BTS Statistics show that at least 1/8 of all miles driven in the US are to pick up or drop off a small payload. Total US vehicle miles traveled are about 3 trillion per year, so the potential reduction of up to 1/8 is a significant annual total savings in primary energy of about 3 quadrillion BTU's per year, so about 3% of total US energy consumption, and virtually all of it oil!
What are other key benefits?
The key benefit is a massive reduction in wasted energy, but it carries many other benefits.
Utility systems everywhere are long lived capital improvements to the cities and towns they serve. Utility distribution of fast moving consumer goods will lower handling and overhead, reducing total cost. (Bottled water is a fast moving consumer good, and it costs thousands of times more than tap water.) It will provide means for the non-driving population to get their food and other provisions, while at the same time reducing road congestion.
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
This proposal costs only a few dollars per foot of system, so keeping the pilot small, like less than a couple of miles total network track, keeps the proposal cost very modest for such a high potential experiment.
The greatest challenge of implementing the proposed action is to muster the resources necessary to proceed. Even though it requires only a few tens or hundreds of thousand of dollars in total in order to implement a commercial grade pilot, this is beyond the means of the author.
Short term impact will be demonstrating the benefit to the point of universal understanding of its worth. (This was also a preliminary necessity for telegraph, modern city sewer and municipal water systems, electricity distribution, telephone, the Internet, and cell phone networks, before their uptake and widespread installation).
While initial widespread adoption will be a network of 'capillary' guage, medium term will be advancing the scale to include arterial freight. This same technology will be scaled up so as to be capable of transporting large aggregate loads between local capillary networks.
Long term will be the complete and efficient, near universal electrification of urban and interurban surface transportation.
About the author(s)
Robert DeDomenico is a USN Veteran, a former nuclear submarine reactor operator. After his 6 years of service, he went on to operate at the largest civilian nuclear power plant east of the Mississippi for more than two decades, during which time he earned a computer science degree, with honors, in only 4 years while working full time. His venture into his real forte, transportation efficiency, began with an epiphany in 2010, and this he has diligently progressed since then. He has been an invited presenter numerous places, including but not limited to: the 2014 First International Physical Internet Conference, Quebec City, Canada, the 2015 International Urban Freight Conference, Long Beach, CA, and the 2015 Annual Conference of the Royal Geographic Society. His previous entry into the 2014 MIT Climate Colab Transportation category carried 80% of all 'thumbs up' votes of support out of a field of 45 entries. This was more than 5 times as many as the next nearest entry, and included persons from six continents and in excess of twenty countries.