Rethinking package handling for the Smart City



Cities are being inundated with the shift to online commerce parcels as well as deliveries from local merchants by companies like Shyped, Instacart, etc. This shift is causing clogged roadways and increasing unhealthy emissions.

Rethinking the delivery mechanism for handling these shipments by Leveraging existing or new types of infrastructure, can make the system both more efficient and environmentally beneficial.


Enabling technology

The first element is create a dynamic self-sorting and self-organizing pod, that understands the packages that are inside it and acts accordingly.

For example: the identifier tag on the package lets you know the address, priority, time of day to deliver, storage requirements (fridge, freezer, etc). A local vendor has a pod and inserts the package, and based on the ID tag it automatically shifts it to the optimal locations for its declared metadata.

Think of it as a dynamic Rubik’s cube or a game of Rush Hour, where the AI solves the puzzle in real-time and a motorized system shifts the packages around in 3D.

At a predetermined time a transport method arrives and links up with the pod or loads the pod and replaces it with an empty one. Seeing how everything is in the pod, it can literally be picked up by a van in the time it takes to stop for a red light, or by a train, in the time it takes to load passengers.

Once it joins the other packages it links itself into the local pod, in effect blending it into the larger pod and the system begins dynamically sorting itself, with this pod getting an end location, and accepting packages intended for that end location.

Such a system can have multiple sized end zones for any shipper or receiver’s requirements. So UPS would have a massive load, while a target would have a bit smaller, and a local vendor would have even smaller, and a local resident would have the smallest end zone. 



Local rail

Re-purposing and co-existing with local mass transit is the first step in making it work, by in effect turning the regular local passenger rail network into a self-contained multi-modal transport network.

If local rail transport methods (i.e. Rail, LRT, Bus) added an extra car or dedicated section with a mobile pod section that lined up and ‘docked’ with a pod at its end destination, the pod would be able to line itself up with the mobile pod and enter akin to a single boarding passenger. Once the pod joins the mobile pod the continual self-sorting system would go into effect as discussed.

This would obviously necessitate some real modifications and investment into the system, but can be extremely beneficial.

Benefits to system

Diversification – While almost all passenger systems are currently subsidized, the packages can be handled at a profit. In every other transport method, the real money is in freight and not in passenger transport. In effect handling baggage can both expand transit and remove or reduce the need for subsidies.

Off Peak – Because most packages need not be delivered during peak hours. More baggage can be handled during these off peak hours where the trains are already operating.


Dedicated systems

A dedicated system would mean creating a much smaller diameter tunnel system under the street that can handle packages up to a certain size and propel them around the system. This system again would be sized like any utility based on the demand, so big buildings and large delivery clients would have large access modules, while a single family home would have the smallest. 

The planning of tunnel size would also be designed based on need, so side roads would have the smallest diameter and large roads would have larger diameters to handle larger flows. It would in effect be a baggage road system with all it entails.

(A system – albeit way simpler – existing in Chicago with their now extinct underground coal tunnel system)

Benefits to City

In addition to removing all package and delivery handling from our streets, we can also remove sanitation handling from our streets, as trash and recycling can be handled as packages travelling during the lowest peak times.


If a city determines to follow this route, I would suggest that they undertake it as part a full underground utility tunnel system, such as those found in Prague. This would remove tons of construction from our streets and speed any deployment of new city and private services.


Learning from History

A smart city is a city that learns from the history of our cities, but manages to do things better because of the technologies enabled today.

A relevant case in point could be the way the railroads handled mail in their early pioneering days when they had a can-do attitude toward everything. The railroads handled mail with special cars by receiving mail from local stations at stops and even when not stopping using a hook and net system. These cars would sort all the mail in real-time and drop them off in the required location, either in-route or at a depot for onward transport.

Imagine what those guys would be doing if they had access to today’s technology and infrastructure. I hope that they would think of this solution as the way to do it.

One thought on “Rethinking package handling for the Smart City

  1. Pingback: Freight Rapid Transit | Pedestrian Observations

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