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Robotic Moles deliver goods through the sewers

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August 4, 2009

The Urban Mole concept from Phillip Hermes

The Urban Mole concept from Phillip Hermes

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Although the first sewers date back to ancient times, concerns about public health in the 19th century saw many cities construct extensive underground sewer systems to help control outbreaks of disease. Some of these sewers evolved from open drains along the center of streets that were covered to provide, not only cleaner, but also wider and therefore less crowded streets. Now designer Phillip Hermes has come up with a concept that could also reduce traffic congestion on crowded city roads by turning the sewerage system into a system for transporting goods.

Hermes’ idea, which placed second in the VisionWorks contest, is called the Urban Mole. It consists of a small transportation unit – the Mole – which can be filled with goods and sent from a packing-station, post-office, or private building with an advanced sewer-connection. It might not sound hygienic, but the Mole itself would travel along a rail positioned at the top of the sewer pipe to reduce the chances of contamination. Each Mole is also hermetically sealed and features a round shape with a surface that draws on the lotus-effect to repel water and make cleaning easier. Electricity to drive the electric motor of each Mole is supplied by the rails.

Since the sewer system is structured like a road network where more traffic means the bigger the pipe, the Mole would depend on the larger pipes, which run under busy streets. For this reason you wouldn’t expect to wait at your toilet bowl for a delivery, instead you would need to go to the nearest ‘Molestation’, which would consist of a special port that ensures customers only come into contact with the Mole’s interior instead of the outer shell.

The maximum packet size each Mole could carry is a little bigger than an average shoebox, making it suitable for transporting books, DVDs and, of course, shoes. Hermes foresees a future where running out of a vital ingredient while cooking could be solved by placing an order and heading to the nearest MoleStation for a delivery that would take less than 10 minutes instead of requiring a half-hour drive cross town.

Hermes’ idea could help reduce traffic congestion by taking a large number of delivery vehicles of the roads, but some kind of security system would probably need to be employed to ensure the Moles aren't raided en route by marauding C.H.U.D.s.

VisionWorks via Wired.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
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