As electronics become smaller and more powerful, physical objects around us are getting smarter. They are also getting connected. That, however, does not change the fact that when you buy a physical object, it needs to be delivered. It is still a “thing,” not a stream of bytes, and despite recent advances in logistic systems, they are still quite inefficient, fragmented, and environmentally unsustainable.
The Internet is built on shared infrastructure and open protocols; it allows data to be sent to any part of the globe in a standard and universal manner. Trucks and containers, on the other hand, belong to different companies, are registered in different countries, and are often filled with empty air. The same is true for distribution centers that have a big redundant capacity and are not shared outside of their corporate entity.
To solve these logistical challenges, researchers from Laval University in Quebec want to apply principles of open Internet Protocols to the delivery of physical goods. They want to create “Physical Internet“— a physical delivery network based on open standards that is as efficient in moving physical objects as the Internet is in moving digital bits.
The Physical Internet initiative is planning to improve logistics by enabling open collaboration and sharing logistics and transportation resources between different organizations, even if they are competitors.
This idea is mind-blowing. Just think about how the delivery of physical goods can change if all companies will connect their distribution centers and truck fleet in a standard way? With standard protocol to drop and pick up goods in hubs like distribution centers, the speed of package delivery won’t be limited by a single driver who is driving a car from New York City to Los Angeles and needs to stop several times for sleep and rest.
Add to this a smart tag on a package that knows the destination address, multiply by self-driving cars, and we are looking at a revolution in how physical objects are handled, moved, stored, and supplied.
CEO of Matternet, Andreas Raptopoulos, is pushing to take the idea of an Internet-like delivery system even further. Matternet is a California-based startup and is working on a drone-based, fully automated delivery system that operates without roads.
It uses a network of ground stations, equivalent to Internet hubs, to automatically move packages from one station to another. The routing software takes care of delivering packages to their destinations.
Conceptual drawing of a Physical Internet hub from kevingue.wordpress.com