As the pace of technological innovation continues to increase, two disruptive transportation technologies threaten to shake up the world of containerized shipping. This presentation will describe the potential impacts of Hyperloop and autonomous shipping on the container industry.
Hyperloop is a high speed “5th mode” of transportation originally envisioned by Elon Musk and being pursued commercially by Hyperloop One and other companies. It relies on magnetic levitation inside an evacuated tube for minimal air resistance. Compared with conventional truck drayage, Hyperloop offers much higher speed, reliability, zero local emissions, and no congestion of roadway networks. It has the ability to virtually shrink the distance between marine terminals and inland warehouse districts. In Los Angeles for example, the bulk of the warehouses and distribution centers are approximately 100 km from the port. On congested roadways, this journey can take half a day via truck, but a container travelling via Hyperloop could make the transit in 15 minutes. This new technology promises to open up new possibilities for inland distribution, and shrink the size of container yards required to support marine terminals.
On the waterside, a number of industry players are working hard to make autonomous shipping a reality. Over short distances, these ships could also be electrically powered. This combination will radically reduce the cost of short haul marine transit. Without crews, the cost of domestic shipping will become much more competitive with road and truck options. Much like Hyperloop, a large part of the appeal of marine shipping is reduction of impact on congested road and rail networks. The ocean as a highway also requires no maintenance, unlike roads and rails that require continuous upkeep. Many short haul routes that are infeasible today due to cost, or environmental objections due to ship emissions, may suddenly regain appeal if costs are radically reduced and ships are emissions free. Destinations such as Portland (OR), Stockton (CA), Albany (NY), Baton Rouge (LA), and locations around the Great Lakes may suddenly spring up as reinvigorated freight hubs due to their convenient waterfront access, not for mainline mega-ships, but for automated feeders that will connect them to major ports nearby, or to other domestic destinations.