Delivery to your doorstep faster than the speed of sound

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The logistics landscape is changing faster than ever. Here's what it might look like in coming years.

Bala Ganesh

Autonomous vehicles dominate the headlines. But they’re just one of the many futuristic technologies we could use to make deliveries in coming decades.

Indeed, at some point in the future, the logistics landscape could barely resemble what we see today. Here’s an admittedly fanciful look at some of the cutting-edge technologies we could use one day to move goods faster, safer – and greener.

Let’s begin with the Hyperloop, a vacuum-tube transportation network that sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie.

People and packages could travel through low-pressure steel tubes in a capsule riding on a cushion of air.

As envisioned by entrepreneur Elon Musk – and the numerous companies’ intent on implementing a version of his blueprint – the tubes would run at least partially on solar power. The Hyperloop could move people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in roughly half an hour.

As remarkable as that is, we also should consider the potential of the Hyperloop to revolutionize the delivery of goods as well. Truth is, packages could travel even faster than people between any two cities.

People and packages With a cargo-based network, you don’t have to worry as much about acceleration. Packages could move at higher speeds, along winding routes bringing cities closer together.

Goods could travel from Jacksonville in Florida to Los Angeles in just a few hours – connecting two of the nation’s busiest ports, on opposite coasts.

While much work remains before people can safely take this G-force-inducing ride, there are well-funded groups of entrepreneurs and investors who have dedicated themselves to solving these engineering challenges.

With test tracks being constructed, it looks more like when, not if, the Hyperloop is going to be up and running.

Developers are planning to soon test pods at speeds of some 300 miles per hour. However, the Hyperloop is expected to eventually move passengers at speeds in excess of 500 miles per hour – cargo will travel at even higher speeds.

Speaking of high-speed options, the Electromagnetic Railgun – a futuristic technology unveiled by the US Navy in February – could also transform the logistics industry.

The tool uses electromagnetic energy to fire projectiles up to 4,500 miles per hour and can reach targets more than 100 miles away. The projectile is launched up to Mach 6 – more than six times the speed of sound.

The Electromagnetic (EM) Railgun was designed as a weapon of war, but just imagine its potential reach as a delivery device.

Instead of UPS flying a jet in the dead of night between Chattanooga and Atlanta, for example, we could shoot a series of bundled packages – equipped with parachutes – and land them in a UPS-owned field.

[caption id="attachment_20115" align="alignleft" width="300"]Elon Musk's original Hyperloop sketch Elon Musk's original Hyperloop sketch[/caption]

What the future holds By 2050, two-thirds of all people will live in a city. Roads will get even more congested, and the demand for goods in megacities will further test already strained transportation networks.

Cities like New York, New Delhi, Shanghai and London could become impassable in 30 years, forcing logisticians to rethink how they transport goods to the final stop. Unmanned aerial vehicles could deliver bulk packages at night, gently setting down the parcels on rooftops.

At UPS, we’ve been testing drones for their ability to deliver to hard-to-reach places. During the day, delivery workers – or even robots – would whisk these packages to their recipients using an array of small, green friendly vehicles.

Think electric mopeds, golf carts, Segways and other lightweight vehicles, such as UPS’s three-wheeled Cargo Cruiser, a pedal-assisted electric bike.

With the aid of such technologies, people would get what they want whenever they want it – and this ever-shrinking world would become more sustainable.

Bala Ganesh is Senior Director of Marketing for the US 2020 Team at UPS. He previously oversaw marketing strategy for UPS’s retail and consumer goods segment. He joined UPS in 2012 as product manager supporting UPS My Choice and social media/mobile integration within the company’s Customer Technology Management group.

Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

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