As one trucking executive put it, “I could utilize the new barges tomorrow if they were available.” Hardware goods and non-hazardous liquids are difficult for trucks to ship. The weight of this type of cargo is very heavy with respect to the volume. A semi-truck carrying nuts and bolts will travel only half full because the gross weight limit is reached.
Existing shipping logistics requires the use of rail and semi-trucks for carrying cargo. The Panama Canal doubled its cargo handling capacity in 2016. Gulf coast ports are the fastest growing ports in the country. West coast ports are no longer growing. The result is a huge bottleneck of cargo. In one US port, container cargo handling increased truck traffic by over 50 percent onto urban highways. Wait times and delays are common and increasing. Customers want a product immediately or at least by a known delivery date. The length of time a product takes to get to a distribution warehouse can be weeks. Most consumer and commercial products a have long journey before they are next day available. Inventories are maintained at distribution centers.
A container arriving at a port is moved to a transloader. The container cargo is then organized for shipment. The InnoBarge project creates an interface between the transloader and a drayage or final mile package delivery service. In the drone package delivery configuration, the barge pod with drones is the final mile delivery to the customer.
The trucking industry is overwhelmed. The huge increase in truck borne shipping and the inability to get drivers is an industry dilemma. In addition, the government is pressuring trucking companies to become more responsive ecologically. An electric truck has a different design constraint than the InnoBarge barge. An electric interstate highway truck must be designed for a wide variety of speeds and load requirements. A truck needs to match traffic speed (or close) even in steep uphill grades. Uphill and high speeds severely impact useful battery charge life for a truck. The river does not have mountains. The river is not a congested environment. The InnoBarge barge is designed for speeds up to about 30 miles per hour. The design constraint maximizes battery charge life and not speed. A down river current has a positive impact on barge energy use.
Typical river barge traffic is made up of transporting high-volume heavy commodities such as stone, coal, oil and gas. The InnoBarge project does not compete with this type of shipping. To use existing towboats and barges to carry the InnoBarge cargo would be cost-prohibitive. The Gainesboro Tennessee port is an example of what happens if a bulk commodity declines. The port has been dormant since the Tennessee oil boom of the late 1970s and 80s. The river town of Gainesboro has declined in the intervening years. Amazon has three drone based delivery sites planned for the Nashville metropolitan area. There are safety concerns, airspace considerations, and environmental hazards associated with an urban drone delivery base. The use of a river reduces the number and probability of risks occurring. The river is not crowded. There are no tall buildings to contend with and there are fewer airspace issues. The population of Nashville is about 750,000 people. Within a twenty-mile distance of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers are 5 million people. A river-based package handling drone delivery barge system is possible.
A phased expansion of the service area is proposed. The first model area of operation is to be 200 miles centering on Nashville TN. There are transloading and drayage services at the CSX rail port in Nashville. The limiting factor of the range is a recharging issue. The solar power systems located in rural areas, such as Gainesboro, extend the range of the barges by a radius of 200 miles and are ideal. Non-solar charging stations, such as river marinas, are able to provide charging services. The availability of the Gainesboro port for the solar system and a development site for the model port