It sounds like an easy slogan, but it may become a reality one day. After all, in April, a patent was submitted in the US for the construction of an underwater warehouse. When it comes to innovative ideas, it can't be denied that this is just that. And, once again, Amazon is behind it. As a result of its recent acquisition of several large retailers in the US, including Whole Foods, Amazon is anticipating the need for future changes to its distribution network.
The underwater warehouse will be stocked by conveyors, people, trucks or small planes depositing extremely watertight “storage balloons” which are filled with goods (stock keeping units or SKUs) into bodies of water. The containers, which will sink to the bottom of the water warehouse, will be equipped with cartridges which can be filled with air, causing the balloons to rise to the surface, like a gas bladder in a fish. This will allow the balloon's depth in the water warehouse to be controlled.
When a SKU must be picked, acoustic waves are sent to activate the cartridge, causing the balloon to rise to the surface of the water. Another option, according to the patent, is to work with artificial currents to push the balloon to the surface.
The purpose of the underwater warehouse is to alleviate one of the deficiencies of modern warehouses: Amazon claims that the space in brick-and-mortar warehouses is used inefficiently. After all, a building is needed in which space must be reserved for aisles and shelves; this results in a significant loss of space. In the underwater warehouse, SKUs could be stored in endless piles, without the need for people or robots to manoeuvre around them.
Whether this is soon to become a reality is the question. Amazon must, of course, adapt its plans for this warehouse to innumerable safety and other regulations around the world. And the challenges are daunting: the automation, the extra materials, the waterproofing, the additional task of getting each watertight package into and out of the water and the high development costs, to name just a few.
Yet, the idea has potential. In the most ideal setting, all handling of the packages would become completely obsolete, since the water supports and transports the SKU, reducing the energy costs. And then, of course, there's the flexibility—if you need more space, you simply fill another body of water. The question that remains is who becomes the owner of the water?
Often enough, water is already present in significant quantities in large cities. This could also end up being a solution for the growing demand for extra storage capacity for urban distribution. And so, we take one more small step toward the dream of achieving maximal use of (natural) space for logistical purposes.