Ocado wants to whisk goods through tunnels with Elon Musk-style electromagnet technology in just three years

  • Magway transports goods on carriages along a magnetic track inside a pipe
  • Uses electromagnet technology similar to Elon Musk's hyperloop system
  • Engineers say scheme slashes delivery costs, energy usage and road traffic
  • Have raised £1m of funding and hope to roll out first route within three years  

Goods could be whisked through underground pipes with Elon Musk-style electromagnet technology in a scheme unveiled by British designers and backed by Ocado.

Magway, which will run under the embankment by the side of the hard shoulder of motorways, will give retailers a quick and cheap way to move goods between distribution and fulfillment centres, and could be up and running in as little as three years.

Parcels and groceries are moved on carriages along a magnetic track, which propels them forward at just under 40mph when activated by an electric charge. The system is set up with two tunnels next to each other each going in opposite directions and can move around 12million carriages a week. 

Magway transports goods including groceries and small parcels on carriages moving along a magnetic track. Pictured is a still from an animated video showing a carriage moving along a track

Magway transports goods including groceries and small parcels on carriages moving along a magnetic track. Pictured is a still from an animated video showing a carriage moving along a track

 When electricity starts running through the track, this pushes the carriages forward at just under 40mph. The electromagnet technology is similar to that proposed by Elon Musk for his hyperloop

 When electricity starts running through the track, this pushes the carriages forward at just under 40mph. The electromagnet technology is similar to that proposed by Elon Musk for his hyperloop

Magway is similar to the hyperloop technology proposed by Elon Musk, which also uses tubes and electromagnets. However, Magway does not operate in a vacuum and will be used for transporting goods, not humans.

A prototype will be revealed next month, and designers hope to roll the technology out across the UK, and then the rest of the world.  

If a further stage of fundraising is successful, the first 56-mile section of pipe between Milton Keynes and Park Royal in London could be up and running within three years, according to commercial director Phill Davies.

'This is a game changer for e-commerce and logistics. It is UK innovation at its best,' he told MailOnline. 'We want to set this up across the whole of Britain and then after that, the world.'

Mr Davies hopes to pitch the technology to companies who need to move large numbers of small to medium-sized items from warehouses to distribution centres near to consumers.

It uses pipes similar to those used by utility companies, which can be buried into the ground or raised just above land level. Crucially, the technology should be cheaper, quicker and more environmentally friendly than moving goods by road.

'All the technology is in the track, so the carriages do not have a motor, battery or driver,' explained Mr Davies. 'We can control each of the carriages individually and know exactly where it is along the route.

'By keeping them close together we can move up to 12 million of these carriages every week. They run through similar pipes to current utilities, which is reflected in installation costs of less than £1m per km.’

The Magway tunnels could run under the embankment by the side of the hard shoulder and help cut down on congestion

The Magway tunnels could run under the embankment by the side of the hard shoulder and help cut down on congestion

The system is set with two tunnels next to each other sending goods in opposite directions

The system is set with two tunnels next to each other sending goods in opposite directions

Magway uses pipes similar to those used by utility companies, which can be buried into the ground or raised just above land level

Magway uses pipes similar to those used by utility companies, which can be buried into the ground or raised just above land level

The Magway system uses electromagnet technology similar to that developed by Elon Musk (pictured in California on September 17)

The Magway system uses electromagnet technology similar to that developed by Elon Musk (pictured in California on September 17)

What is Elon Musk's hyperloop and how does it work?

Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel that would transport people at roughly 700mph between distant locations. Magway is inspired by several of its features. 

The system was unveiled by Elon Musk in 2013, who at the time said it could take passengers the 380 miles (610km) from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes - half the time it takes a plane.

Sketches of a hyperloop test track in Europe, which could allow passengers to travel from Amsterdam to Frankfurt in as little as 50 minutes

Sketches of a hyperloop test track in Europe, which could allow passengers to travel from Amsterdam to Frankfurt in as little as 50 minutes

It is essentially a long tube that has had the air removed to create a vacuum. For safety reasons, Hyperloop tunnels need escape hatches in case of fire.

The tube is suspended off the ground to protect against weather and earthquakes.

There are now a number of firms vying to bring the technology to life, including Elon Musk himself, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Virgin Hyperloop One.

Mr Davies believes the system could handle the vast majority of products sold by major online retailers.

'We can address the entire online grocery market, which we're at the forefront of at the UK,' he said.

'The system could handle 90 percent of the general merchandise coming out of Amazon, ASOS and John Lewis. The rest, like bikes and flat-screen TVs, is too large to fit in the pipe.'

Magway won funding from an Innovate UK Emerging & Enabling Technologies award with a consortium that includes Ocado and Old Oak & Park Royal Development Corporation, which manages the largest regeneration site in Europe.

It is currently in another fundraising stage and will open its 40-foot prototype track in Wembley next month.

The developers hope to extend the technology across the UK (as shown in this graphic) before taking on the rest of the world 

The developers hope to extend the technology across the UK (as shown in this graphic) before taking on the rest of the world 

Magway hopes to open its first route from Milton Keynes to Park Royal in London within three years. This map shows the distance between both areas as a straight line - the route of the tunnel will be longer 

Magway hopes to open its first route from Milton Keynes to Park Royal in London within three years. This map shows the distance between both areas as a straight line - the route of the tunnel will be longer 

Most watched News videos


Click here to open external link

A British online groceries reveals plans for a 'hyperloop for parcels.' It aims to create an underground network of delivery carts powered by linear motors.