Skip to content

What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future

Publication: Goods Movement 2030: An Urban Freight Blog
Publication Date: 2023

“Why deliver two-pound burritos in two-ton cars?”

That’s the question posed by sidewalk delivery robot company Serve, which is delivering food in places like Los Angeles. Sure, using something other than a car for items like a burrito makes sense. But what about a sofa? Urban delivery is all about right-sizing, context, and connecting logically and efficiently to the broader delivery network.

At the Urban Freight Lab (UFL), we talk about things like sidewalk delivery robots and e-bikes as microfreight. Microfreight is about moving goods using smaller, more sustainable modes where possible. Think micromobility, but for moving goods, not people, in the last mile of delivery.

Microfreight was one of the four topics UFL members voted to explore as part of the Urban Freight in 2030 Project. In the right city context, using microfreight can be both economical for freight businesses and more sustainable in terms of decarbonization and city dweller quality of life. We intentionally chose to hold the UFL spring meeting on microfreight in New York City, a city on the leading edge of the multimodal goods movement. The city’s perch on that leading edge makes sense, as the densest city in the U.S.; a city with sky-high delivery demand coming from people living in sky-high towers; and a city government working to proactively manage that reality. To be sure, NYC is one of a kind when it comes to dense, vertical living. Because of this density and intense interaction between modes, the Big Apple is an important place to watch — and a great place for us to share learning, expertise, and ideas.

And when we watched the Midtown Manhattan streets during that UFL meeting, we saw throngs of people on e-bikes and cargo bikes making food and ecommerce deliveries. But microfreight is about much more than just bikes. It includes personal delivery devices (PDDs) and drones. It even includes walking, an element that permeates nearly every last-mile delivery segment, especially the final 50 feet of a trip. Yet walking is something normally talked about for moving people, much less so for moving goods. To be sure, we saw plenty of deliveries being made on foot while in NYC, too!

Here’s a rundown of what we consider to be microfreight.

Recommended Citation:
"What is Microfreight? Downsizing Delivery for a Multimodal and Sustainable Future." Goods Movement 2030 (blog). Urban Freight Lab, June 19, 2023.
Technical Report

Field Test of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to Support Avalanche Monitoring

Download PDF  (9.36 MB)
Publication: Norwegian Public Roads Administration Report
Volume: Geohazard Survey from Air (GEOSFAIR)
Publication Date: 2022

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration, the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute, and SINTEF conducted a field test with a unmanned aerial system (UAS) with various instruments at the research station Fonnbu in Stryn. The purpose of the test was to evaluate the use of instrumented drones for monitoring and assessing avalanche danger. The instruments tested included optical and thermal imaging, laser scanning and ground-penetrating radar. Resulting datasets included 3D models (point clouds and height maps), multispectral and radiometric, thermal images and radargrams.

Authors: Dr. Ed McCormack, Regula Frauenfelder, Sean Salazar, Halgeir Dahle, Tore Humstad, Emil Solbakken, Trine Kirkhus, Richard Moore, Bastien Dupuy, Pauline Lorand

Evaluating Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Snow Avalanche Monitoring in Winter Weather and in Mountainous Terrain

Publication: Transportation Research Board 96th Annual Meeting
Publication Date: 2017
The Norwegian Public Roads Administration (NPRA) completed an evaluation of Unmanned Aircraft Systems’ (UAS) ability to operate in winter weather and in mountainous terrain in support of snow avalanche monitoring. Vendors flew nine multi-rotor, rotary-wing, and fixed wing aircraft on four increasingly difficult missions ranging from flights over a nearby road and bridge to a 2.3 kilometer flight to a 1300 meter mountain to inspect avalanche features. Results indicated that there is no single UAS that meets all of the road administration’s needs. The fixed wing aircraft were more capable in bad weather and could fly greater distances to view avalanche release zones. However, they are not always stable camera platforms and required more skill to operate. Multi-rotors were easier to operate and more stable but are less capable in winds and had more limitations when flying to distant features. In general, the photo and video output of the UASs was usable for avalanche assessment. The UAS all flew following the national aviation authority’s line of sight and distance regulations which reduced their ability to travel to out of sight terrain. This suggests that NPRA should work with the authorities to establish permanent danger areas above avalanche zones where beyond line of sight flying is routinely permitted. A multilevel NPRA institutional approach to using UAS was proposed were small multi-rotor aircraft are owned and operated by NPRA and used to look at close-in snow features. For longer flights, fixed wing aircraft flown by a contractors may be the best solution.




Authors: Dr. Ed McCormack, Torgeir Vaa, Gunne Håland
Recommended Citation:
McCormack, E., Vaa, T., & Håland, G. (2017). Evaluating Unmanned Aircraft Systems for Snow Avalanche Monitoring in Winter Weather and in Mountainous Terrain (No. 17-00134).

Delivery by Drone: An Evaluation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology in Reducing CO2 Emissions in the Delivery Service Industry

Download PDF  (2.33 MB)
Publication: Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment
Volume: 61
Pages: 58-67
Publication Date: 2018

This research paper estimates carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) levels of two delivery models, one by trucks and the other by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or “drones.”

Using several ArcGIS tools and emission standards within a framework of logistical and operational assumptions, it has been found that emission results vary greatly and are highly dependent on the energy requirements of the drone, as well as the distance it must travel and the number of recipients it serves.

Still, general conditions are identified under which drones are likely to provide a CO2 benefit – when service zones are close to the depot, have small numbers of stops, or both. Additionally, measures of VMT for both modes were found to be relatively consistent with existing literature that compares traditional passenger travel with truck delivery.

Authors: Dr. Anne Goodchild, Jordan Toy
Recommended Citation:
Goodchild, Anne, and Jordan Toy. "Delivery by Drone: An Evaluation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Technology in Reducing CO2 Emissions in the Delivery Service Industry" Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 61 (2018): 58-67.