Revolutionary Cargo System: Japan’s 310-Mile Automated Conveyor

Japan’s Ambitious Solution to a Logistics Crisis

Japanese government plans to connect major cities with automated, zero-emission logistics links to transport millions of tons of cargo quietly and efficiently, removing tens of thousands of trucks from the roads. The project has been under discussion since February by a panel of experts from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism.

A draft released on Friday outlines plans to complete the initial Tokyo-Osaka link by 2034. This initiative aims to address labor shortages exacerbated by population decline and the increasing demand for online shopping deliveries.

The exact method has not been finalized, but the plan includes moving small cargo, each up to one ton per pallet, across a 500-kilometer (310-mile) distance without human intervention. One option is a massive conveyor belt running alongside highways or through tunnels. Another option is flat lanes or tunnels where automated electric carts transport the pallets.

A 500-kilometer tunnel alone would cost about $23 billion, even before adding any conveyor belts or autonomous carts. Considering the rapid advancements in autonomous electric truck technology, it’s worth questioning whether such infrastructure might be unnecessary by the project’s 2034 target date. With the current pace of innovation, self-driving vehicles could be widely available and capable of handling the transport tasks independently by then.

Alternatively, the infrastructure might consist of flat lanes or tunnels, with automated electric carts moving the pallets. Constructing a 500-kilometer tunnel alone could cost around $23 billion, excluding additional costs for conveyor systems or autonomous carts.

However, the ministry is actively seeking private sector funding for the project and appears committed to moving forward. According to Tetsuo Saito, Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, the project aims to tackle the logistics crisis while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “We aim to advance the discussions rapidly,” Saito emphasized, underscoring the government’s determination to see this ambitious plan come to fruition.