It’s often said that the simplest ideas are the best. Let’s take the amazon blowpipe as an example. Now here’s a tool that was first made in 600AD and is still used today as an animal tranquilliser. It remains largely unchanged, relying on nothing more than the lung capacity of man.
You can see why it’s useful. The user can deliver a dart in almost complete silence, without all the fanfare and clumsiness of a gun or a rifle.
It can be fashioned from a tree, so it’s cheap and sustainable. It requires no maintenance so there’s no waiting for parts to arrive, nor is there the Peruvian equivalent of an LGV service centre offering an overpriced maintenance package. Perhaps the only drawback is that you can’t fit it in your pocket.
But the basic principle of the blowpipe remains; to deliver an object quickly, cheaply and easily from one point to another.
In recent times we’ve seen a significant rise in the number of ecommerce deliveries, with the popularity of home shopping set to increase and the high street shop and retail outlets becoming a thing of history.
This has had an impact on the volume of vehicles on the roads and the frequency of journeys being made. In London alone the number of private vehicles has steadily reduced over the last five years, yet in the same period the number of vans has increased to a point where the traffic is heavier now than it was before the introduction of the Low Emission Zone!
We also know, from publicly available statistics, that the number of people living in urban areas is on the increase, with forecasts suggesting that by 2050 some European cities will have more than double the number of people living there today.
So, home shopping becoming more popular, more people living in congested cities and potentially more vehicles making deliveries. Yes, potentially…
Mr Musk is on to something, though he’s not quite there yet. His idea is to take vehicles off the road, put them underground and move them through a network of tunnels, popping up when and where you need it most. Nice idea but the potential cost of the project, let alone the complexity and safety implications will surely render it a non-starter.
We need to find a way of reducing urban traffic without detriment to the service that people expect. We need to find a solution to home shopping deliveries that doesn’t impact on ecommerce. We need pipes.
A network of pneumatic pipes in fact, that could carry parcels using nothing more than air pressure and forward motion. The network could start at a hub on the outskirts of town and automatically guide the parcel (using existing airport technology) to a collection point close to the customers’ home. The popularity of customer lockers proves that people are happy to travel a short distance to collect their goods.
As the network develops then the number of collection points grow, leading to more convenience for the customer. The pipes could be positioned above ground, meaning less disruption on the already congested roads and less cost for the project.
So, much like the Amazonian blowpipe we have a system that could be simple, effective, reliable and cheap. The pipe network would be sustainable over many years. After all, we’ve used age-old pipes to transport our water with no obvious side-effects!
It could help to reduce traffic volumes, to reduce the number of accidents involving vehicles and people, improve urban air quality and make life more convenient; no more waiting in for deliveries.
Perhaps we need to talk to the Peruvians?