If you hate waiting in line for your food, here’s some good news. A new type of food delivery system could be coming to a restaurant near you, and it promises to be faster than traditional methods.

Introduction: Teleporting Food

You get up all tousle-haired and groggy and find that it's nearly mid-morning. You rush to get ready for work, but find there's nothing in the fridge that can be turned into breakfast. You quickly place an online order for food. Since you're already running late, you can't afford to wait for the food to arrive, right? Wrong! Before you know it, a beep sounds from a drawer beside your bed. You open it to find the breakfast you'd ordered safely delivered to your bedside in a neat package. Sounds unreal? Seems like a plot from a science fiction movie? Well, this may soon materialize if the startup Pipedream Labs has its way.

Pipedream Labs is a hyperlogistics company that is looking to make the teleporting of food, groceries, and packages possible. Pipedream's futuristic delivery system envisages a citywide subterranean network of delivery pipes and delivery pods that run on electricity. Much like hyperloops that seek to take passengers over large distances in the blink of an eye, these parcel delivery pipes and pods seek to ensure near-instant long-haul delivery of your grocery items, or food from your favorite eatery.

According to Pipedream's CEO Garrett Scott, since every home can't be connected overnight, the company had opted for a "middle mile" network in urban spaces. This network is expected to allow packages to be batched and transported around the city at "warp speed", at a minimal cost, and without impacting the flow of traffic. The company's CTO Canon Reeves points out that though the focus will initially be on neighborhood delivery portals, the ultimate aim is to build portals inside homes to offer customers an even more futuristic and convenient experience.

Pipedream's experiment is a continuation of large-scale technological innovations that have been a feature of the food industry. Technology has emerged as the best friend of the food industry as it tries to find ways to move away from the mess created by the Covid pandemic. Indeed cutting-edge technological innovations have come to inform every aspect of the food supply chain, right from the farm to the fork.

Tech-enabled dining was not uncommon in the pre-pandemic days, and you did have restaurants offering drive-thru, grab-and-go, and curbside pickup options, but the pandemic accelerated the pace at which businesses had to go tech-forward. So you had drones and sidewalk robots being used for delivery. Food lockers are making a comeback too.

The application of technology ensures that products are inestimably better, processes incredibly accurate, and product turnaround and delivery times are just a minuscule fraction of what they used to be. This has led to a sharp increase in convenience for the customer, and consequently, the quality of service has seen a quantum leap.

Pipedream aims to make hyperlogistics a reality within a decade. The advent of subterranean food delivery technology shows that there is no limit to how far businesses are willing to go stand out from the clutter and add value to the customer experience.

What is Hyperlogistics?

Hyperlogistics allows parcels to be transported in "single digit minutes or seconds" at a nominal fee, Pipedream COO Drew Bellcock explained.

According to Bellcock, hyperlogistics will allow immediate delivery across all retail categories, and customers will be able to place orders for individual items as and when required, instead of having to batch the orders.

Moreover, hyperlogistics dispenses with the need to have "cart minimums", or a specified threshold value of orders in the cart to avail of same-hour delivery.

On-site storage can also be shifted to the cloud with the help of hyperlogistics. "When getting something delivered is almost as quick as getting it out of your cupboard/closet/drawer, the need to store that item in your home for quick access is gone," Bellcock wrote on Twitter.

He added that this futuristic technology will improve access to resources. "There are maybe 10 billion screwdrivers in the world sitting in drawers and toolboxes, a fraction of a percent being used. With hyperlogistics, 2-3 million screwdrivers being constantly distributed around can satiate demand for screwdrivers," Bellcock explained.

Increased access to items would result in resource optimization, less wastage, and generally, better items being produced.

How Underground Food Delivery Works

Pipedream's subterranean Food Delivery system works with delivery agents dropping off a cluster of orders they collect from a location (grocery store or restaurant) to a Pipedream Portal nearby. These Portals resemble vending machines and kiosks with a single point of interface. The interface point or hatch is placed at the same height above the ground as a standard US mailbox.

The Portal supports direct loading and unloading of packages through the hatch and is linked directly to the drive bot. When the package reaches its destination, it can be retrieved by another delivery driver, or by a robot to carry the parcel over the final mile, or it may be received by customers themselves.

How do the parcels travel from one Portal to another? Pipedream's delivery bots carry the packages through a web of 12-inch PVC pipes spread beneath the bustling city. These are the same type of pipes that are used by urban utilities for electrical and plumbing networks.

The delivery bots are divided into two parts, namely the drive section that holds the motor, batteries, and electronics. Then there is a cargo section that contains the detachable cargo pod. These pods essentially carry your food or grocery orders. They are 18 inches long and 10.8 inches in diameter and are believed to be spacious enough to carry a whopping 95% of all the items that are delivered to customers' homes.

The delivery bots have a top speed of 110 miles per hour, but they seldom hit that mark, slowing down at bends in the network, and moving at 60-75 miles per hour, realistically. That's still faster than a car chugging along on a road aboveground, stalled by traffic snarls. It is a good enough speed for customers looking for near-immediate deliveries. Underground deliveries are, however, not made between cities, but over the last mile in a city, from where the maximum costs come, Reeves clarified.

Pipedream Portals are designed to store eight pods at a time, acting as food lockers or Amazon storage lockers.

Benefits of Underground Food Delivery

1. Pipedream's subterranean delivery system allows stakeholders to cut costs considerably. "Intra-district deliveries" of food and grocery items are aimed to be provided at a nominal fee of about $0.75. Drone delivery is much costlier than delivery bots.

"Drones can't be the backbone infrastructure... it costs 25 times more energy to send something using a quadcopter versus driving it in a small robot on the ground," SingularityHub quoted Bellcock saying. He added that given the sheer volume of packages that need to be delivered, the skies will soon be littered with drones buzzing around.

Scott acknowledged the need to keep costs at a minimum and pointed out that most of the technological innovations had been accommodated in an underground bot. He also talked about the possibility of using the PVC pipes already placed by utility companies for parcel delivery. This has the potential to significantly trim costs on the delivery infrastructure. Costs may also be saved by doing away with the need to have cart minimums for speedy delivery, as discussed earlier.

2. Subterranean package delivery may be cost-effective for companies given the fact the final mile of the journey of a package, or its movement from the warehouse to its ultimate destination, constitutes around 50% of the total cost of delivery, a report by McKinsey said. Reeves acknowledged that the largest part of the costs came from the final mile. By focusing on this last mile, subterranean delivery promises to offer big benefits to businesses. The cost benefits may be passed on to consumers, who would then be able to cut their Food Cost and grocery cost.

3. The all-electric delivery system envisaged by Pipedream will enable green delivery by doing away with carbon-dioxide emissions by conventional delivery vehicles.

4. The speed and convenience of this subterranean technology let drivers deliver more packages every hour, making them highly efficient, and reducing their stress levels.

5. Subterranean delivery is a real boon in these times of the pandemic. It ensures almost zero human interaction while parcels are loaded and unloaded into the Portals. Much like food lockers, this minimizes the chance of the coronavirus spreading. All that people handling Portals need to do is to sanitize their hands and surfaces to be doubly sure about avoiding pathogens.

6. Food and grocery items delivered through underground pipes will not be hamstrung by traffic jams overland. Surface congestion has been a big issue in the US, and according to a study by research organization INRIX, the US lost a massive $87 billion in productivity in 2018 as a result of traffic jams. Washington DC, Boston, and Chicago were the cities most affected, and in Boston, in fact, drivers lost as many as 164 hours in under a week due to traffic congestion.

7. The convenience offered by this technology may help in attracting more customers over a small radius, which translates into bigger revenue for businesses. The Pipedream terminal locations are to be placed in such as way that they maximize customer numbers within a radius of a quarter mile.

Other Underground Delivery Players

Pipedream is not the only company making a splash in the field of underground parcel delivery. A British startup named Magway is developing a substitute for the conventional system of trucks moving above the ground to deliver packages.

The company aims to construct narrow tracks and tunnels running beneath the ground alongside freeways, and under cities, to transport packages.

The pipes built by Magway are envisaged to be under a meter in width, and capable of taking parcels in pods. The delivery pods would move on a track propelled by a magnetic motor and link retail stores and consumers with distribution centers. Much like the delivery pipes used by Pipedream, Magway's tunnels resemble the subterranean pipes employed by water, electricity, and gas companies in terms of design.

In the US, the shipping and supply chain management company UPS is looking at innovative delivery methods, including self-driving trucks and drones. E-commerce giant Amazon is also developing its own set of vehicles. Retail behemoth Walmart had also considered driverless trucks for the delivery of online orders.

In November 2016, a patent was filed by Amazon for "dedicated network delivery systems" that may have "subterranean or above-ground elements". The patent filing displayed images of parcels being delivered underground. London, in fact, operated a mail rail network set up as far back as 1927. It had the capacity to handle over four million letters every day. The service was, unfortunately, discontinued in 2003.

In 2017, a subterranean delivery system was patented by Amazon to transport parcels to delivery nodes located in the city center from regional depots on rail cars, and conveyor belts. According to the patent, containers may be moved through gas/liquid-filled pipes, or through a vacuum.

Elsewhere, Sidewalk Labs, which is an Alphabet subsidiary, had planned a subterranean delivery system using self-propelled, electric delivery carts connecting logistics hubs in the borders of the town to basements in commercial and residential buildings. It promises to cut truck movement in the Quayside area of the Canadian city of Toronto by 72%.

A company called Mole Solutions, based in Cambridge, England, is also looking to see if urgent product delivery through pipes on a large scale is viable. The company uses capsules that are powered by magnetic fields via a network of pipes.

"Clean water is taken into homes and dirty water is taken away and we never really see it, while huge amounts of oil and diesel are transported by pipes underground. Now we want to do something similar with freight, delivering goods to buildings and taking away waste. 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. The bounds of this are limitless," said Mole Solutions' head Roger Miles, according to an article in SameDayDelivery.com.

Is Underground Food Delivery Safe?

Pipedream's network would largely be underground, which is intrinsically secure and safe. The delivery robots won't be falling from the sky, they won't be driving off the street, or crashing into pedestrians, vehicles, trees, or other objects on the earth's surface, and won't be blocking sidewalks.

Locations for terminals would be chosen and designed while putting primacy on security and safety, as well as usability and aesthetics. Additionally, deliveries will be made exclusively with your consent, unlike mails, which may be sent to you by anybody who knows your address.

Pipedream's layout plan for a specific service area will be influenced by a number of points, such as the topography, availability of permits, prevalent infrastructure, delivery service providers, the density of population, and restaurant/ Commercial Kitchen /grocery store locations.


Super-fast subterranean delivery of food and grocery has the potential to revolutionize parcel delivery beyond recognition.

It is a clean, green, safe, cheap, and convenient method that is in keeping with the aim of the leading player in this field, Pipedream, according to which, delivery needs to be so quick that it would feel as if packages are being teleported.

Driven by the concept of hyperlogistics, subterranean deliveries are a perfect match between sustainability and consumerism, so much so that Pipedream plans to ensure that its infrastructure can be used by utilities if the company embraces a different method of delivery, or shuts shop.

For now, the Pipedream team is working hard to make piped food a reality as soon as it can. Soon grocery and Food Ordering and delivery experiences may undergo a profound transformation. Till that time, the world waits with bated breath.