The Future of Freight

By now we’ve all heard about receiving Amazon packages by drone. Drones haven’t cornered this market, though – there are also robots. But these are just the tip of the iceberg for cool new ways for stuff to get delivered more efficiently. Here’s a review of some other ideas in the works, starting simple and working up the freakiness ladder.

Truck platooning. We all probably learned somewhere that drafting behind a big rig can increase your gas mileage. But following too close can also have its drawbacks. Technology company Peloton has developed a device to wirelessly link two or three trucks following in close succession, controlling acceleration and braking to keep the trucks close enough to benefit from the draft without any collisions. Interestingly, this results in fuel savings for the lead truck too – Peloton claims increased fuel efficiency for the first truck of about 4.5% and about 10% for the followers. Oregon truck maker Daimler and others are working on similar technology.

Driverless trucks. If technology can control the space between trucks, why not just have technology drive the trucks entirely? R&D in this area focuses both on designing driverless trucks from the ground up, and retrofitting existing trucks. One of the primary benefits of driverless vehicles is avoiding the risks of impaired drivers, so perhaps it is no coincidence that the first driverless truck delivered a trailer full of beer.

Social Moving. The informal price to get your friends to help you move used to be a few pizzas. But now you can make new friends by finding your moving helpers on social media. Buddytruk and Lugg will bring residential movers to you with just one click. Cargomatic does the same for commercial deliveries.

Vacuum tubes. When I read about this, all I could think of was Augustus Gloop in the chocolate factory. A hyperloop uses a vacuum tube to deliver goods without friction or air resistance. Elon Musk has plans for hyperloops big enough to ship people or freight between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and between New York and Washington DC. Elon says he can reduce the travel time on both routes to less than an hour.

Blimp warehouses. If freight is to be delivered from the air, why not just store it there too? An automated, pilotless blimp full of stuff, with drones coming and going 24 hours a day. What’s not to like? This is another step towards solving the last mile problem.

Freight shipping impacts real estate in so many ways: from warehouses and ports, to highways and parking lots, to air quality and noise regulation. Each of these innovations, and many others not described here, are rapidly changing the considerations that go into both real estate investment and land use planning for the logistics industry.