How to teleport a printer across the Atlantic

This fictional company would allow you to send anything, of any size, to any big city — for free, and at 50 times less the pollution

Imagine this. You’re in L.A. You have a ten dollar note in your hand, and your friend in London asked if he could borrow ten bucks for a few days. You agree. Do you put the money in an envelope and Fedex it to him? Most likely not, and not just because dollars are hard to use in the UK, but because there are easier ways of sending money.

Instead of money, now imagine your friend asking if he could borrow your printer for a few days, and you agree. Do you put the printer in a box and Fedex it to him? That seems more likely, although you’d have to talk about who picks up the bill. But today, that’s how you do these things. Let’s imagine a world in which sending things is as easy as sending money.

Ship

With the company’s app, you would take a photo of the printer and select your friend as the recipient. While you make yourself a sandwich, the app would go to work: First, it posts an ad to Ebay and Craigslist, selling your printer for local pickup at your home in LA. Then, it looks for the same printer model on Ebay and Craigslist in London. It buys one immediately, and pings a driver in London picks it up and drives it to your friend’s house.

As it goes with teleportation, there would be awkward situations where the transported object would be at both the origin and the destination. It’s expected. Your printer would be picked up as soon as the app finds a buyer in Los Angeles. Of course, you would find yourselves in the opposite situation where none of you have a printer for a little while. Also expected. Luckily, all the buying and selling is none of your business, just like you are not expected to care about fuel injection in your car’s engine.

The speed of the exchange would reflect the population of the two cities. The more people, the better the chance that someone needs your printer, and the better the chance that one is up for sale.

Mid-air modifications

Beyond the free, fast, green shipping, this form of transportation would do another magical thing. It would turn your printer’s 110V US plug into a 220V UK plug. For free.

You would expect the same type of transformation for clothing sizes and colors. Yes, you can borrow my jacket, tall guy in Europe, and it can be yellow if you don’t like blue. “Just send it back in blue, size medium,” would be a normal sentence between friends.

The CO2 budget

Sending the printer via USPS requires flying 5,500 miles and driving for one hour to and from the airports in both countries. The USPS method comes in at 1.02 tons of CO2.

So how does the teleportation method fare? It’s 10 am. You’re in Venice, L.A. The buyer is in Inglewood, L.A. The printer would have to go on a one hour drive at 25 miles per hour. At the same time in London, 6 pm local time, the traffic is even worse, so going diagonally across the city will also take around an hour, but at 15 mph. The teleportation method adds up to 0.02 tonnes of CO2, 1 ton less than the traditional method,

Not perfect yet

Using Ebay for transportation wouldn’t be flawless. You didn’t expect it to be. The price between the two locations can be different. The same printer model could have a different price tag in Los Angeles and London. But since your friend in London is just borrowing the printer, in this case, the price difference might break the whole thing even when he returns the printer. The price difference could also result in a profit if a friend in London decides to gift his printer to a friend in L.A.

Supply and demand. It would probably work for Macbooks, Brother printers, and IKEA furniture. A workaround for smaller cities could be accepting a slightly different product as a tradeoff for speed. You can have my printer tomorrow, but it will be a different model.

Wear and damage. Transport damage isn’t exactly a new thing, and it could be real for teleported goods, too. On the flip side, you might end up with a product in a better shape than the one you shipped.

Last-mile transport can be expensive. If we’re going to send an Uber to a seller to bring it to the destination, the Uber might end up costing more than the atom-based postal service. A workaround could be to add last-mile transport as a premium fee, and let people pick up their goods elsewhere if it has to be free. Or use some of the cheaper new transportation startups like Shyp. Or one that is founded just for teleportation.

By turning transportation into a hidden market place, we would enable teleportation. There would be no magic or quantum entanglement involved, just a lot of work, carried out by the bits and bytes in the app, and the actors on Ebay. The whole idea wouldn’t be a new thing. We’ve been doing this for hundreds of years, ever since the money telegram was invented. With mass produced items and a globalized marketplace, maybe we could do it for products, too.