What is CargoCap?
This innovative concept is a joint project of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Ruhr University of Bochum. The proposed underground transportation uses individual, intelligent vehicles called Caps. The system is independent of above ground traffic congestion and weather conditions. Each Cap is designed for the transportation of two euro-pallets (the European standard for pallets) and travels through pipelines with a diameter of about 6 and a half feet.
It is not just a "futures" problem they are trying to solve. About 10% of Germany's highways are at or above capacity with traffic jams costing the economy around 130 billion dollars a year. Bearing the brunt are parts suppliers, raw materials suppliers and finished goods customers. Then there is the impact on the ecology: petroleum consumption, noise (cities as well as highways), pollution, accidents, demand for land.
Water, gas, electricity, cable TV and even building heat travel underground in the city. Why not refrigerators, car parts, bottles, etc rolling along at about 22 mph to factories and stores?
CargoCap is a computer-controlled transport system of the future: environment-friendly, fast, flexible and competitive. Customers and companies get their goods delivered on time. Deliveries could be between single business sites (workbench to workbench) or between warehouses and sales locations. In supply chain terminology, it could be called the optimization between e-commerce and logistics.
As well as being operated by sophisticated technologies, the CargoCap network can be built using a state-of-the-art trenchless pipe jacking process. A computer-controlled cutting head eats its way towards the target at over 50 feet a day.
The Caps stop at many stations in an extensive underground transportation pipe network 24 hours a day. At their final destination one or more Caps arrange themselves automatically into the station to be re- or unloaded. Because of the loading with only two euro-pallets per Cap, a high loading and distribution flexibility is ensured. If more goods have to be delivered to one destination, simply more Caps are run in combination. Flexible, fully automated re- and unloading stations make the turnover fast and competitive. A great advantage of CargoCap is the fast and uncomplicated extensibility of the transportation pipe network. If the demand for transport increases the underground transportation network simply grows with it. Thus CargoCap is able to support the economic development and increase the competitive ability of business locations. Plus there are advantages for the environment and benefits for security.
Because of a high population density and the economical structure; congested urban areas have a high demand for transport services. A large number of people have to be supplied with goods for their everyday needs, and businesses in the production sector depend on just-in-time logistics services. CargoCap is therefore suited especially for food, consumer and investment goods like production components. Add in parcel and express freight. About 2/3 of all goods of that type transported in Germany fit into the cargo hold of CargoCap without further breaking of the freight.
If the demand for transport increases the single Caps group into collectives running close to each other. The equipment with individual engines ensures that in case of a defect the journey can be continued with reduced performance at least to the next station. In addition the fronts of the Caps are equipped with collision units which allow them to push disabled vehicles out of the transportation pipe.
An essential aspect of CargoCap is the fully automated operation management. This applies to the control of the tracks, vehicles, switching and load turnover as well as the various safety controls. The operational control system is integrated into a superior logistics structure, so the customer is able to follow the movement of the goods at any time.
The interaction of all components requires a safe exchange of information. For that reason, CargoCap possesses a partly cable-based and a partly radio-based communication network.
The quality and reliability of the inner-plant logistics are - especially within the production sector - an essential precondition for economical productivity and efficiency. Delays have far reaching consequences, so that under certain circumstances several local warehouses are supposed to prevent interruption of production. That is especially the case for businesses with several separated business sites that are currently only connected by classic traffic systems.
CargoCap is able to improve the transportation processes as a part of business specified logistics and decreases the necessity of several parallel warehouses with corresponding costs for tracking. In addition new enterprises can be opened with inner-plant logistics in-place.
As soon as the goods packed on pallets have arrived at their final destination the Caps are automatically unloaded by ordinary pallet-handling machines. Further transport is provided by proven vertical and horizontal conveyors such as tracked conveyor belts, castor tracks with turntables or fork lifts. The unloading stations themselves can be planned and executed according to the needs of the customers. Several concepts can be used:
Unloading station where the Caps are lead through transportation pipes right up to the surface, if possible with a connection to a high bay warehouse
Underground delivery to a single consumer with completed delivery via vertical conveyors
Underground delivery to an industrial site or a business center where distribution level on which a is provided by the usual conveyors.
There is a similar idea around called a RailPod. It runs on railroad tracks and can carry either passengers or freight. Then there are already several bicycle delivery services in France. But some experiments did not last: Chicago had a freight delivery subway starting in the 1920's.