A comeback for pneumatic tubes

I kinda love this idea. The Economist reported recently on the concept of using pneumatic pipes to deliver goods.

“In the late 19th and early 20th century, underground tubes were used in many cities to speed up the transport of mail between post offices and government buildings.

“Letters were put into capsules, the capsules into the tubes, and compressed air was then used to push the capsules from one station to the next.”

“It was not uncommon at the time to think that pneumatic post of this sort would develop into a wide network, like telephony or electricity.”

Franco Cotana, an engineering physicist at the University of Perugia, in Italy, said the system didn’t grow because of technological limitations at the time – “air compressors are expensive to operate and maintain, and the energy they produce dissipates quickly, so capsules can cover only short distances. But technology now exists to overcome those limitations.

“Pipenet, a system Dr Cotana patented in 2003 and has been developing since then, is based on a network of metal pipes about 60cm (two feet) in diameter. Instead of air pressure, it uses magnetic fields. These fields, generated by devices called linear synchronous motors, both levitate the capsules and propel them forward.

“The capsules are routed through the network by radio transponders incorporated within them. At each bifurcation of the pipe, the transponder communicates the capsule’s destination and the magnets pull it to the left or the right, as appropriate.

“Air pumps are involved, but their role is limited to creating a partial vacuum in the pipes in order to reduce resistance to the capsules’ movement.

“This way, Dr Cotana calculates, capsules carrying up to 50kg of goods could travel at up to 1,500kph—so you could be wearing a pair of jeans or taking photographs with a new camera only a couple of hours after placing your order.”

Rest of the story is here.

Pneumatic Tubes in the NZ Herald newsroom
Pneumatic tubes carry news 'copy' in the NZ Herald newsroom

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