Wanted: Cofounder for YC S19. Robotic Tunnel Delivery of Groceries/food/packages

46 points by tuberelay 6 months ago

I want to use modern tunneling tech like horizontal directional drilling and pipe-jacking to build networks of tunnels under major cities to allow high speed "just in time" deliveries using small autonomous vehicles.

Looking for someone with ability to move to SF in summer 2019 for YC (or another program).

I am: 36, ex medical doctor, have a decent amount of seed capital. Interested in small lithium vehicles, construction and the environment.

You: Happy to move to SF for YC (and probably even if YC app doesn't work out). Hardworking and ambitious and upbeat :). Any robotics or construction or civil engineering experience would be useful, but not essential. PR/public speaking/sales/communication abilities would be great too. Qualities matching those of the YC application would also be useful eg. cool projects you've worked on in the past.

[email protected]

toomuchtodo 6 months ago

Hint: Sell this to communities as utility tunneling to have them cover the cost (fiber, power, water, sewer, etc) and use the remaining space for autonomous mobility as part of your contract with them.

https://www.boringcompany.com/products/ (Conduit Tunnel)

SamReidHughes 6 months ago

If you can pull this off please wire everybody up for fiber while you're at it.

  • heyjudy 6 months ago

    There's plenty of dark fiber in numerous metros thanks to the dotcom times, the main issue is last mile premise deployment and the cost of labor involved. You can't miracle away those costs to miraculously hook everyone up without spending billions sans a profit model.

    • SamReidHughes 6 months ago

      With efficient tunneling you can have efficient wiring. The last mile problem becomes a last chain problem.

reaperducer 6 months ago

It would be interesting if you could revive this delivery method.

Chicago still has its old delivery tunnel network beneath downtown. It’s not in great shape. The Palmer House Hilton uses its section to grow mushrooms for its restaurant.

My father used to talk about delivery networks beneath Manhattan that he used. But I think those may have been pneumatic.

  • macp 6 months ago

    ^^^ This. Or, build into the subway lines. Avoids drilling costs for early stages.

    • parallel_item 6 months ago

      Maybe while they are at it they can make some additional $$ improving NYC MTAs sensor network so MTA can know where the trains are!

      • reaperducer 6 months ago

        There's no reason they can't. Public/private partnerships are done all the time.

        In Chicago, AT&T got a deal to put small cell towers in places they wouldn't ordinarily be allowed in exchange for building the Office of Emergency Management and Communications a private wireless data network.

        In the subways, there was some kind of deal struck with the wireless companies, as well. I don't remember exactly how it worked but it was something like Brand X gets 2-year exclusive on wireless service in the subways if it builds the infrastructure that everyone else can piggyback on later.

        It was slightly comical years later when a dozen cities around the world were touting how awesome it was that they were "first" to have wireless service in their subways, while people in Chicago had already been living with the scourge of loud people Facetiming other nobodies about absolutely nothing for everyone to hear. The screeching of the L wheels is preferable.

heyjudy 6 months ago

Not to be a Debbie Downer, but to think critically and not fall in love with an idea more than reality. TBH, sounds capex intensive and there must be reason(s) why it was abandoned, i.e., cost to hookup areas and inflexibility of rigid, expensive infrastructure deployed such that it's not scalable for the profit that it could generate... if Manhattan, HK and Tokyo don't use it anymore, why now?

  • tuberelay 6 months ago

    why now:

    - tunnelling tech has come a long way - pipejacking means you can install hundreds of metres of pipes from a single hole without digging a trench. Horizontal direct drilling means the chinese can put a 600mm diameter pipe spanning 3kms under the yangtze river from a single access point.

    - lithium batteries and vehicle routing tech means that small delivery vehicles can do their jobs at incredible speed and efficiency.

    • gitgud 6 months ago

      Sure it's possible, but how expensive are those underground pipes? To payback the cost of installing those would take a huge amount of food deliveries right? Doesn't sound profitable at first glance anyway

    • treis 6 months ago

      How do you avoid tunneling through existing utilities?

    • madhavjha 6 months ago

      Just sent you an email. I believe this can work.

marcell 6 months ago

I've been thinking about this idea over the past few months. My main thought is whether it passes muster in terms of economics. Revenue can be estimated as a multiple, say, FedEx or UPS revenue. Maybe it would be 2-5x of whatever those do now, to account for the increased convenience. Do you have any rough ideas on what the cost would be?

Also, another big issue is permitting. Which govt bodies would have to issue a permit to allow underground tunnels? Eg. I if I want to build some tunnels under Palo Alto, who has to approve it?

dgarud 6 months ago

Couple of comments:

1) What is the size of the pipes you are considering? Will it be big enough for humans to get into for maintenance - I was thinking what would happen if a delivery vehicle breaks down or a small animal gets into a tunnel.

2) Have you considered small blimps as delivery vehicles? The technology has got considerably better and should be less noisy than drones.

  • tuberelay 6 months ago

    1) 700mm diameter - broken down vehicles should be shuntable, but a person could get in there reasonably easily.

    2) helium blimps lift 1 gram per litre of helium, so to lift 10kg of groceries they would need a 10 cubic meter blimp or a 2.7 meter diameter sphere - seems big and difficult to control especially in winds.

    • S4M 6 months ago

      A person could get in a pipe of 700mm diameter? I seriously doubt it.

      • lgregg 6 months ago

        It's a tight fit but works. I would have to put one arm forward and one arm back to shift my shoulders for a torpedo tube (approx 21in or 533mm depending on nation). 700mm is another 6 inches. The average male's shoulder width is about 18 and go wide as 24 inches (often hard core weight lifters).


macp 6 months ago

What's the advantage of tunnels as compared to self-driving ground vehicles or air drones?

  • tuberelay 6 months ago

    Air drones - loud, need to be pretty big and noisy to lift larger payloads eg. groceries. In order to cover use cases of food/grocery/package delivery across a city and surrounding suburbs there would be a constant stream of high powered drones whirring through major areas and around streets/footpaths. I don't think this would be acceptable to the public at scale.

    Self-driving footpath size delivery vehicles - people won't tolerate anything going faster than 10km/hr on sidewalks and that + crossing roads makes it too slow. In addition, at any reasonable volume and covering longer distances eg. 5km trips across a city these would end up blocking footpaths eg. if grocery delivery sized drones were working in any sort of numbers.

    Self-driving delivery cars - could work, but to replace all current package/grocery/food deliveries would involve a huge fleet of cars, or carrying multiple deliveries per car which makes them laggy - not good for takeaway food or packages where a person needs to go to a sidewalk to meet the delivery vehicle.

    The idea is that delivery drones in tubes can travel at high speeds - faster than cars (50+km/h with few/no stops), can be centrally controlled to cooperate well on limited bandwidth routes, and will end up being able to be routed like internet traffic. being able to arrive "just in time" will make them ideal for sidewalk pickup by the end customer.

    Although highly capital intensive, I think that a well-planned network like this would allow efficiency and competition the likes of which have never been seen before in delivery of groceries, packages and takeaways. Imagine the ability for ANYONE in the city surrounds to compete on grocery prices, not just the large supermarkets on high value real estate. "Last mile" delivery costs are more than half of total courier costs - imagine if these were reduced to near zero.

    • tuberelay 6 months ago

      A bit more about the economics of this:

      Assuming each person in a city has:

      - a postal/courier package delivered every 2 days

      - a grocery delivery every 3 days

      - a takeaway/food delivery every 4 days

      This means on average overall each person gets 1 delivery per day. Assuming delivery cost of $2 per delivery, this means in a city of 1 million people there is $2 million daily revenue for operators of this, or $700 million per year. At a cost of capital of 5%, this would allow up to $14 billion dollars to construct this network in a city of 1 million people. At an average $4 delivery cost there would be up to $28 billion available.

      • maxander 6 months ago

        What percentage of the city would have easy access to tunnel endpoints? It's a pretty difficult last-mile problem.

        At least in the short term, a good bet would be funneling stock to retail stores. In lots of neighborhoods, big trucks parked on narrow streets to offload cargo is a big problem.

      • Praxey 6 months ago

        To do this you would need buy in from all the legacy carriers first. It doesn't work without having them all as your partners, so you get the economy of scale you need. That will be very difficult. Next, you need to consider your own operating costs. How are these vehicles going to be powered? Routed? You will still need to sort and distribute the packages. What if one breaks down in route? How are you going to lift them back up onto the surface? Are you planning to retrofit buildings with tubes going down into your network? Or distribute in/out terminals throughout the city? Both which would require an insane amount of upfront politicking and planning. There will be issues of easements, zoning, and liability to work out. Then, even if you get all the players to agree to your plan, which is unlikely, you still need to deliver the package at a (significantly) lower cost structure than they currently are able to do with government subsidized roads.

    • macp 6 months ago

      Why underground? Could it work in above ground pipes? How big would be the packages and robotic vehicles?

      Packages, grocery, and food bring different requirements in terms of delivery speed and size, which could lead to different solutions--some easier to address than others. What is the pain point and most desperate customers for each?

      • gitgud 6 months ago

        I agree, tunnels below ground have the disadvantages of:

        - expensive to bore out

        - cannot be changed

        - expensive to maintain

        Above ground pipes would allow for easier maintenance and a much cheaper roll-out. Crazy but could be worth looking into existing infrastructure like power cable routes etc..

Adamantcheese 6 months ago

So why not use pneumatic tube transport instead? Too small? Also a failure of a vehicle can block a tunnel entirely, maybe electrified rail would be better. I'll keep an eye on your project, seems neat.

  • tuberelay 6 months ago

    Pneumatic tube means a single transport vessel going in 1 direction per "airlocked" region of tube, as well as needing to be airtight. Having self-powered electric vehicles means cheaper infrastructure and multiple vehicles going in both directions at once.

    Thanks :)

schappim 6 months ago

I love this idea. How will you handle the network exit points?

gammateam 6 months ago

> Happy to move to SF for YC

(or already lives in SF / Bay Area, I thought it was weird that you wrote this twice, I wonder if there is a preconception about people that already live in SF undertoning this, like already busy or already moved for some other 'change the world' trope)