The pandemic has tested the limits of our supply chain. Rising demand, coupled with worker shortages and global logistics hurdles, has made it challenging to ship and deliver goods to consumers in a timely way. Experts predict those issues will continue well into 2022.
“Our current system for moving goods isn’t resilient,” explained Silicon Foundry Partner Chad Shuford. “Consumers’ lives and needs have changed–and we need a delivery paradigm that supports that.”
The good news: technology can help. Shuford points to hyperlogistics–an emerging industry that moves goods via a network of underground tubes–as a faster, cheaper, and automated way to get products where they need to go.
Imagine a network of underground tubes that connects warehouses, businesses, and homes. Inside each tube are two parallel tracks–one for receiving goods, and one for sending them. If you want to send something via the network, you place your package on a smart shuttle that’s equipped with 3D and AI vision, autonomous navigation, and dynamic routing. You tell it where to go, and the shuttle hurdles off to bring your package to its destination. Now, imagine that system operating at scale across entire cities. That’s hyperlogistics.
Ben James, cofounder and CEO of hyperlogistics company Tubular Network, says that the concept has the power to unlock major efficiencies and opportunities.
“Our goal for the next ten years is to make it 100 times faster and cheaper to deliver goods in U.S. cities,” James said.
In order to do that, goods need to move more like information, relying on an open set of services and ecosystem of providers.
“We envision a system where different delivery transportation service providers can talk openly to each other and move their goods from Point A to Point B without setting up formal relationships,” James explained. “An open standard that uses APIs when something needs to move will allow multiple parties to plug in seamlessly.”
Hyperlogistics is still in its infancy: Tubular Network is currently operating in stealth mode and working on a pilot with an aerospace company. Other startups working in the space include Magway and Pipedream Labs. But the concept is gaining momentum, and Ben James says there are three things you need to know about this new way of moving goods.
#1: Hyperlogistics Will Increase Efficiency and Productivity
E-commerce requires a lot of labor. It can take hours just to move packages from distribution centers to fulfillment centers. Packages are manually loaded onto a truck, driven to their destination, and then unloaded–and that’s before they’re sent on their way to consumers. Hyperlogistics can change that by eliminating batching: goods travel through the system as a stream, reducing or even eliminating the loading and unloading required to get them to their final destination. Ben James explains that freeing up that time and labor will have a major impact: “Hyperlogistics will make the e-commerce experience better. It can solve bottleneck issues. And it will open up new economic opportunities we haven’t imagined yet.”
#2: Rollout Will Start Small
Like any new infrastructure project, rollout will begin across a limited geography. Ben James says we’re likely 20 years out from widespread hyperlogistics infrastructure–but in the next two years, we’ll see pilots in areas like industrial parks.
And while building hyperlogistics infrastructure will be expensive, it isn’t terribly complicated. James points out that we’re already really good at putting tubes underground–we build out water, natural gas, fiber, and electric networks that way. And he predicts that the efficiency gains will pay off: ”instead of spending millions of dollars moving goods,” James explained, “you’d spend millions of dollars to automate the process, which saves money over the long haul.”
#3: Hyperlogistics Could Change the Way We Send and Receive Goods In Our Homes
Ben James envisions a world where hyperlogistics is possible from your home. The network would extend to residential neighborhoods, where houses would have a hyperlogistics portal–imagine a high-tech mailbox or laundry chute–with in- and outbound tubes. “People will be able to send and receive packages, meals, or even a tool or cup of sugar you’re borrowed from a neighbor,” James said. “Let’s say your home is on the same tubular network as your favorite restaurant all the way across town. You can order the meal you want and get it within minutes instead of having to wait for delivery.”
Ultimately, James says hyperlogistics isn’t just about speed–it’s about bringing the power of automation to a system of shipping that’s still very manual. “We’re creating a new infrastructure to make an internet of goods,” he said. “We’ll automate deliveries using little robots traveling through tubes underground. And the implications of that are enormous.”