(Chicago, IL, 11.29, 2021) ] In “The Most Important Mile: Inclusive Futures for Local Delivery”, distribution systems are supported by autonomous technology and centered on communities. Released on the biggest e-commerce shopping day in the United States, this three-part report portrays the challenges and opportunities of revisioning how technology connects local economies to each other and the world.


In 2031, robo-vehicles bloom with low-carbon produce at a 24-hour farmer’s market in the Netherlands. It’s one of many community co-operatives started by a Berlin “rescue supermarket” that fuels a new circular economic model throughout the EU.


In 2028 in Queens, New York City, DIYers upcycle, recycle, and make essential goods without depending on global supply chains or extractive corporations. Using open-source autonomous delivery and a nimble local mindset, they retake the streets and meet orders.


In 2024, the national postal system in Perth, Australia, orchestrates local distribution systems. This model is “Mobility as a Service, but moving stuff instead of people,” giving consumers sustainable delivery choices and boosting small businesses.

The report says these futures are possible, but they demand bold and fresh approaches to governing the business and technology of local delivery. No matter how ethical the platforms described in these scenarios may be, unless consumers want to use them, they will fail. For this reason, the stories describe benefits and outcomes for individuals as well as the effects and potential for us all, collectively, at scale.

“These scenarios were inspired and informed by ideas, initiatives, businesses, and organisations at work in the world today,” state lead authors Bryan Boyer and Dr. Anthony Townsend. “While the stories combine and integrate those examples to bring to life possible futures, the signals we detected happening right now clarify larger challenges for strategic action.”

“Bryan and Anthony are some of the foremost observers of how technology interacts with and shapes society—and the leading futurists when it comes to mobility. This scenario exercise on how goods delivery can be more inclusive is invaluable,” said Benjamin de la Peña, CEO of the Shared-Use Mobility Center.

The “Most Important Mile” was written at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when online and local delivery had surged as a necessary way to obtain needed goods. Yet, while others locked down, the essential workers delivering these goods could not. The ensuing risk to workers and disparities in who has access to and can obtain these services partly fueled this investigation into more inclusive approaches.

Watch the SUMC Webinar on The Most Important Mile: Scenarios for Autonomous Vehicle Delivery

In this webinar, you meet authors Dr. Anthony Townsend and Bryan Boyer, who discussed their report and how autonomous vehicles impact society and individuals. Imogen Pierce, who works in sustainable mobility and future technology for Fully Charged and ethical AI company Bubblr, also joined the discussion alongside Shared-Use Mobility Center CEO Benjie de la Peña who moderated.

Media Contact: Leslie@sharedusemobilitycenter.org

Meet the authors

Dr. Anthony Townsend

Dr. Anthony Townsend is Urbanist in Residence at Cornell Tech’s Jacobs Institute. As part of the founding team of the university’s Urban Tech Hub, located on Roosevelt Island in New York City, he directs applied research and teaches courses on smart cities engineering. Anthony is the author of two books on the future of cities and technology, Ghost Road: Beyond the Driverless Car (2020) and Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for A New Utopia (2013), both published by W.W. Norton & Co. His consultancy, Star City Group, works around the world with industry, government and philanthropy on urban tech foresight, policy, and planning studies.

Bryan Boyer

Bryan is cofounder of the architecture and strategic design studio Dash Marshall where he runs the studio’s strategic design practice. In addition to practice, Bryan is founding Director of the Urban Technology program at University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and Assistant Professor of Practice in Architecture. Previously Boyer was cofounder of Helsinki Design Lab at the Finnish Innovation Fund, one of the first design teams working at a national level inside government. His recent editorial projects include Design for Social Innovation: Case Studies from Around the World (2021) and LEAP Dialogues: Career Pathways in Design for Social Innovation (2016). Bryan serves on the board of directors for Public Policy Lab in New York City and lives in Detroit, MI.