To date, the SkyTran system has been described almost entirely in terms of passenger transport. However it also has tremendous potential for automatically delivering physical goods. The proposed $1-2 trip cost is well within the cost range for package delivery with even a single package per trip. Likely results of such a facility are explored in ExtremeJustInTime, ExtremeCustomization, LittleShopOfWonders and SuperSevenEleven. The business result is likely to be FrictionFreeCapitalism: radical out-sourcing and reorganization of production, distribution, and consumption patterns.
- Factories will certainly have their own SkyTran terminals for their Shipping and Receiving departments. However it could go much farther. They could build a network of extension SkyTran rails throughout the factory, and route vehicles directly to the work area for urgent deliveries, or perhaps all of them except items so bulky or heavy that they needed ground transportation. (These rails might not be magnetically levitated; the backup wheels would be sufficient at slower speeds.) This would save the significant added time and expense of manually routing packages within the factory.
- Special freight SkyTran vehicles could be designed for automatic loading and unloading. Or perhaps the seats of standard vehicles could be designed to fold down and accomodate freight modules -- this is likely because it would also benefit shoppers who would load groceries etc. in one or more !SkyTran vehicles that would accompany them to their destination.
- There should be a hierarchy of standard-sized containers designed for robot handling. For example, each large container might occupy the space of 2 or 4 small ones; so they could be packed efficiently.
- A rush shipment might contain just a single part in a SkyTran vehicle -- estimated costs of 1-2 dollars a trip make this very feasible.
- Less urgent items could be batched, like a "jitney" taxicab picking up and dropping off passengers all along the way. Hordes of !SkyTran delivery vehicles (probably belonging to delivery services like Fed Ex or UPS) would roam the city, each carrying multiple packages to be automatically loaded and unloaded at destinations along the way. With huge numbers of packages moving all the time, this could be fast (each delivery would still be point-to-point) and very cheap.
Princeton physicist and futurist Gerard K. O'Neill was an inspiration for many of these ideas, with his early explorations of the possibilities of automatic freight transport using different technologies:
- The High Frontier suggested that colonies near one another in free space will exchange goods and passengers by "inertial transfer" -- capsules that don't need rocket engines, but are simply accelerated and decelerated at each end.
- 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0671447513 proposed a network of magnetic levitation package-delivery tunnels for freight transfer within cities. SkyTran would be cheaper to build (digging even small tunnels is a much more disruptive construction project than simply placing a utility pole every 30 feet). In fact it will be effectively free, because passenger travel alone will justify building the network.