May 17, 2020

Fly Me to the Moon

Newt Gingrich
moon colony
Freddie Pierce
3 min
Top floor, please.
Click here to read this article in the magazine edition! Staff contributor: Heather Rushworth It sounds like a science fiction fantasy—maybe bec...

Click here to read this article in the magazine edition!

Staff contributor: Heather Rushworth
It sounds like a science fiction fantasy—maybe because it was originally dreamed up by Arthur C. Clarke--but despite its fictional beginnings, a space elevator to the Moon may soon become reality as the greatest functional monument in history.  
Advancements in the design of carbon nanotubes have turned the prospect of such a far-fetched vision into a tangible goal.  The key to the epic elevator lies in the effectiveness of nanotube as a construction material.  Nanotubes are basically sheets of graphite, or interwoven carbon which can be effortlessly manipulated into long tubes that can measure as little as a few nanometers in diameter.  While these tubes are tough—approximately 100 times stronger than steel—they are dramatically lighter than their weighty counterparts.  
So scientists have extended the potential of these tubes to include the odd but compelling dream of journeying to the moon by pressing a button.  Using nanotube technology, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the substance could eventually be developed into a meter-wide cord rooted to the earth – and thrust up into the heavens.
An elevator would then be attached to this space-reaching cord, and its potential exploited to transport satellites, space station materials – even people.  The trip would take approximately seven days – that is, about 75 in-flight movies starring Robin Williams, Matthew McConaughey, or Katherine Heigl in continuous succession – but come on, the journey would be so worth it if you ended up at the Sea of Tranquility weighing a fifth of what you did before.
The noble idea of a space elevator spawned from the potential of the nanotube has inspired its share of moon dreams.  Most recently, Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s vision of an American Moon Colony by the next decade – where people could live together in harmony amongst moon rocks, space debris, and oxygen tanks – is being hailed as a revelation by the obviously beleaguered scientific community. 
While the idea of an elevator to the Moon may be inspiring, such an enormous feat could not come about without solving some serious logistical problems. First of all, the estimated cost of the initiative is around $10 billion.  While some of us may have that kind of cash lying around—Bill Gates, Oprah, Jesus— it may not pass muster with philanthropists, entertainers, and deities looking for a more practical investment to add to their portfolio.  In addition, scientists cannot currently make nanotubes that stretch the necessary 62,000 miles to the moon; they are, however, working on it.  But even with all those obstacles duly considered, experts say the project could become a reality as soon as fifteen years from now.
Ultimately, it seems that the elevator to the Moon is bound to become a reality sooner or later.  As a modern consumer, this upsets me, because I am already disappointed by its limitations. Why not elevators to the Moon?  From every driveway in America?  Or elevators to Mars, the Sun, and Heaven – the part where my cat is?  Escalators to the Underworld?  A fireman’s pole to China?  
I cannot help but think this is just another sad example of the dull imaginations found in the scientific community.

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Jun 15, 2021

FedEx is Reshaping Last Mile with Autonomous Vehicles

3 min
FedEx is expanding a trial of autonomous vehicles in its last-mile logistics process with partner Nuro, including multi-stop and appointment deliveries

FedEx is embarking on an expanded test of autonomous, driver-less delivery vehicles to develop its last-mile logistics. 

The US logistics firm piloted autonomous vehicles from Nuro in April this year, and the pair will now explore that further in a multi-year partnership. Cosimo Leipold, Nuro’s head of partnerships, said the collaboration "will enable innovative, industry-first product offerings that will better everyday life and help make communities safer and greener". 

FedEx will explore a variety of on-road use cases for the autonomous fleet, including multi-stop and appointment-based deliveries, going beyond more traditional applications of the technology in single-route movement of goods from A-B. Exponential growth in ecommerce is spurring its broader experimentation in new autonomy solutions, Fed-Ex says, both in-warehouse and on-road. 

“FedEx was built on innovation, and it continues to be an integral part of our culture and business strategy,” said Rebecca Yeung, Vice President, Advanced Technology and Innovation, FedEx Corporation. “We are excited to collaborate with an industry leader like Nuro as we continue to explore the use of autonomous technologies within our operations.”


The changing role of couriers 

Unlike structured delivery networks, operating under long-term partnerships and contracts, agility is where couriers deliver true value - and their ability to deftly solve last-mile fulfilment has most acutely been felt during the pandemic. For the billions of people around the world forced to stay at home to protect themselves and their communities from the spreading COVID-19 virus, couriers have been a constant. They may have been the only knock at the door some people experienced for weeks or months at a time. 

But the last-mile has been uprooted by a boom in ecommerce, a shift that has been most apparent in the UK, US, China and Japan, according to the Global Parcel Delivery Market Insight Report 2021 by Apex Insight. These are markets with dominant economies and populations used to running their lives with a tap of a screen or double-click of a mouse. 

“Getting last mile delivery right has long been a challenge for retailers,” says Kees Jacobs, Vice President, Consumer Goods and Retail at Capgemini. “In 2019, 97% of retail organisations felt their last-mile delivery models were not sustainable for full-scale implementation across all locations. Despite increasing demand from customers, companies were struggling to make the last mile profitable and efficient.”

Jacobs says that the pandemic alleviated some of these stresses in the short term. With no other option, consumers were understanding and tolerant, if not entirely happy, with longer delivery times and less transparent tracking. “But, as extremely high delivery demand continues to be normal, customers will expect brands to contract their delivery times,” he adds. 

Last mile's role in ESG

Demand and volume weren’t the only things that have changed during the pandemic - businesses looked closer to home and as a result became more sustainable. Bricks and mortar stores were transformed from mini-showrooms to quasi-fulfilment centres. Online retailers and other businesses sought local solutions to ship more faster. In densely populated London, UK alone, Accenture found that delivery van emissions dropped by 17%, while Chicago, USA and Sydney, Australia saw similar emissions savings. 

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