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Building Community with the Urban Freight Lab

Building Community with the Urban Freight Lab
Building Community with the Urban Freight Lab
January 18, 2023   //   

By Katie Radin

For the unfamiliar, the Urban Freight Lab (UFL) is a Seattle-based working group dedicated to developing novel strategies and solutions for the challenges of goods movement in cities.

As both thought leaders and project doers, they’re on the front lines of issues like last-mile delivery and how it plays a tremendous role in creating a public right-of-way that’s safe (or not), efficient (or not), and equitable (or not). What makes the UFL particularly unique — and a kindred spirit to Lacuna — is its foundational ethos: in order to solve for many of these challenges, the public and private sectors must come together in partnership. Housed at the University of Washington and member-led by organizations from the Seattle DOT to vehicle-makers to international freight operators, the UFL itself is such a partnership. Members’ representatives can discuss sensitive new developments and opportunities in their organizations in a setting that’s both private and productive. 

Members gather quarterly to update each other on the latest developments, deep-diving into topical themes. The most recent quarterly meeting’s focus was on “digital transformation”, and as one of the UFL’s key technology-focused members, Lacuna was excited to host at our headquarters in Palo Alto, CA.


“We drank from the Silicon Valley fire hose,” said the UFL’s Director of Policy and Partnerships Kelly Rula. “The meeting was really fun, really content-heavy — ‘digital transformation’ is a very broad topic.”

Kelly’s been a UFL member since 2017 with her previous role at Seattle DOT and this was her first quarterly meeting planning and executing after taking the helm last summer. To showcase the breadth and spread of digital transformation already transpiring in the urban freight space, she shifted the standard meeting format to maximize information sharing: fewer breakout sessions and more interactive demos.

Among the presenters were Lacuna’s Head of Research Shushman Choudhury and our resident MDS pioneer Marie Maxham. A fan favorite was a visit to Agility Robotics’ lab next door to Lacuna’s office, where UFL members peppered the engineers with questions about Digit, a robot that may someday execute freight tasks like unloading and delivery. Another highlight was a demo from Nauto, an AI company developing digital products to help keep drivers and other road users safe as automobiles become more and more autonomous — particularly in the challenging last-mile context. Members also enjoyed a site visit to the Nuro headquarters in Mountain View, where they witnessed autonomous delivery vehicles in action.


The focus on digital transformation is the second of four elements of the UFL’s current project: Urban Freight in 2030. The previous meeting explored the topic of electrification, while the upcoming virtual meeting will tackle land use and physical space needed for goods movement, and then in May members will reconvene in New York City to discuss the possibilities and momentum of microfreight. We look forward to continuing our work with the UFL and our fellow members — balancing the public sector perspective with under-the-hood demonstrations from the private sector.

“We love having Lacuna as a member of the Lab,” said Kelly. “You listen to all the different parties and try to be that in-between space.”