UK company wants to deliver parcels through an automated underground tunnel system

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UK firm Mole Solutions is exploring the possibility of using small robot trains running on underground tracks to manage deliveries (Photo: Mole Solutions)

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Drones flown by Amazon aren't the only way we could be getting our parcels delivered in the near future. UK firm Mole Solutions is exploring the possibility of using small robot trains running on underground tracks to manage deliveries, and it's just received funding from the British government to help test the viability of the proposal.

The system Mole Solutions wants to put in place uses magnetic wave propulsion, similar to that used by Japan's super-fast Shinkansen maglev train. In fact, the technology used here is simpler, cheaper and generates much less heat than maglev.

There's plenty to recommend the idea: no deliveries held up by traffic congestion and no need to wait for drivers to become available before you can get your hands on the latest Blu-ray boxset. Mole Solutions says the small tunnels could be installed alongside existing transport infrastructure and create a system that ran 24 hours a day.

The steel carriages would run down concrete tubes measuring between 1.3 m (4.27 ft) and 2.4 m (7.87 ft), while the loading and unloading would also be handled automatically. Unloaded pallets would be stored in secure, temperature-controlled units at specified depots – the box wouldn't trundle straight up to your front door (at least not yet).

Capsules would not power themselves, instead electricity would be used to run linear induction motors (LIMs) built into the track. The subsequent magnetic fields would then propel the capsules to their destination. As the Independent reports, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain has stumped up cash for a trial run in Northampton.

"Congestion is a global issue and we could take a significant volume of traffic off the roads, not just in the UK but in countries like China and India," Mole Solutions chief Roger Miles told reporters. "The bounds of this are limitless." He compared the system to water supply networks that work almost invisibly to the end user, and it's not the first time innovators have tried to find new uses for underground routes.

There are benefits for supply companies like DHL or UPS too, as they could get packages to customers more quickly for less cost. Despite the enthusiasm for the idea, all the parties involved admit there's a long way to go before we're picking up our deliveries from a Mole Solutions drop-off point. The small-scale trial is designed to investigate the commercial, environmental and socio-economic impact of such a scheme before a decision is made on whether it can be rolled out elsewhere.

Below you can see a short video setting out Mole Solutions' inspiration for the project.

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