Retail

MIT’s Underground Delivery Solution

In a quest to solve the logistics challenges of competitive retail delivery, a group of scientists at MIT are taking the low road — as in, below ground.

The Wall Street Journal shares the story of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Institute for Data, Systems and Society, who — along with research and development groups that are affiliated with the school — are seeing if it might be possible to facilitate delivery in urban centers through the use of small, self-driving vehicles that would travel underground.

The outlet reports that, at a conference earlier in the week, the group presented a prototype for just that type of three-wheeled subterranean drone, dubbed "persuasive electric vehicles" (PEVs).

One of its developers, Sertac Karaman, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, explained to WSJ a number of potential advantages that the self-driving underground delivery vehicle has over the standard method of air freight, pointing to the fact that, in many areas, the infrastructure to facilitate their travel is already in place.

As for comparable safety, he told the outlet, "It only takes a kid with a rock to take down a drone."

Putting PEVs against ground-based delivery, meanwhile, Karaman posits that the former would be more reliable than heavy transport trucks and avoid the problems of traffic congestion.

At the same time, Karaman acknowledged to the outlet that, at this early stage, the notion of self-driving subterranean vehicles becoming a part of retail delivery remains a "wild idea." For that to be a reality, there are a number of regulatory and compliance issues to be addressed — not the least of which, notes WSJ, is the fact that only a few U.S. cities currently allow the use of autonomous vehicles at all.

The MIT team behind the PEVs does have some strong support, adds WSJ, with Google currently at work to compel the U.S. Transportation Department to draw up a federal rule set related to self-driving vehicles.

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