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Ballistic Delivery Service

Deliver product by shooting it - from a cannon
  (+6, -1)
(+6, -1)
  [vote for,

Ballistic Delivery Service is instant-gratification taken to it's logical conclusion. An online/WAP/cell-phone ordering interface receives the name&quantity of the product you are requesting, your billing information, and your geographic location. Within seconds, one of the big 16-inch guns is loaded with a pod containing the product in a g-shock-reducing foam, the computer calculates angle and range to get to your location, and seconds later it is drifting down on a guided parasail to your exact location. The pod then inverts itself into a mini-rover and drives back to the launch center.
philthechill, Dec 16 2002

(?) Cannon. http://lupus.northe.../th100/cannonde.gif
watching for a delivery. [Amos Kito, Oct 04 2004]

similar food delivery http://www.halfbake...dea/Heavenly_20Food
[FarmerJohn, Oct 04 2004]

(?) 16" Guns http://www.geocitie...tilden/16ingun.html
Page on 16" guns, including a nice picture of a 16" Howitzer [philthechill, Oct 04 2004]

(?) 16" Howitzer Picture http://www.geocitie..._tilden/16ingun.jpg
76k image of 16" Howitzer on what looks like rotating base [philthechill, Oct 04 2004]

(?) Rocket Mail http://www.asss.utv...etmailpioneers2.htm
Including package delivery and livestock transport. Arguably bakes this idea. [Monkfish, Oct 04 2004]

"Introducing Astrophilately" http://www.apf.org.au/news4.htm
[Monkfish, Oct 04 2004]

T-Shirt Gun http://www.tshirtgun.com/
[FloridaManatee, Oct 04 2004]

(?) A competitor http://www.evolvepr...com/pages/mach.html
[FloridaManatee, Oct 04 2004]

(?) ST Technologies' latest toy http://defence-data...ry2000/pagees27.htm
40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher Air-Bursting System [FloridaManatee, Oct 04 2004]


       It's possible enough, especially if you substitute rockets for mortars; we're using roughly the same set of techniques used for "precision bombing" (though the parasail is new and tricky, and the rover is quite impossible).   

       One problem is that the accuracy won't be that great; there's a good chance it will come down in your neighbor's yard or get tangled in a tree or end up on your roof or whatever.   

       Another problem is that you'd probably be running afoul of all sorts of airspace regulations. Artillery is not really something the FAA looks kindly on.   

       A bigger problem is that this would be godawful expensive. Each delivery would cost tens of thousands of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands.   

       By replacing single-use munition technology with reusable modules as you propose (no need to have a fancy rover -- just have the recipient ship it back via UPS) you could save some money, but I'm still not seeing a viable market.
egnor, Dec 16 2002

       I could see how it might cause problems with air traffic... heck it's crowded up there enough with just the planes... can you imagine hundreds of thousands of these things shooting through the sky as well? I can see the headline now, "Plane crash, caused by Lands End package" - Aaaaa!!!   

       And yeah, I can't imagine the little rovers returning in one piece... there can be quite a bit of terrain that's not drivable by a regualr sized vehicle, how much more insurmountable would it be with a little one?   

       Still, the instant gratification angle does have appeal...
Aurora, Dec 16 2002

       Another advantage of rockets (or missiles, anyway) is range; the internet suggests that 16-inch guns have about a 35km reach, which gives you a pretty limited delivery area (and in your case it'd probably be less than that because you'd want to use very high trajectories). There's a good chance the package wouldn't beat out a guy in a van or an experienced pizza delivery driver once you factor in all the loading, launching, finding and unpacking.   

       Then again, you might want something like a high-speed unmanned drone that can cruise out to its target, drop its smart-bomb package, and fly itself back home. This might save some money and hassle (no waste/nothing to recover) and be slightly less dangerous.   

       It's too bad the rover's not going to work out, because you could have built up some capital, funded R&D on your gear, and crushed your competitors in the courier business by just having packages drive themselves both ways for a few years.
Monkfish, Dec 16 2002

       Just use gigantic orange guns, wrap the thing in some sort of towling coating and shoot it, no need for a parachute.
Gulherme, Dec 17 2002

       Gosh! Where's 8th? This one's right up his alley.   

       Well it certainly has some pretty big feasability issues, but I'm going to croissant this one for the same reason I croissanted circus cannon jousting - the wonderful mental images it evokes.
madradish, Dec 17 2002

       // Gosh! Where's 8th? This one's right up his alley. //   

       Up to now, in my backyard, with a hundred metres of sixteen inch drainpipe and a welding torch ......   

       [Monkfish] is right about the range limitation; but if you consider that each gun could cover an area of nearly 1000 square kilometers. At a 70 km spacing, the whole of the UK could be covered by roughly 60 guns.   

       Things like the V-3 and the esteemed Mr. Hussein's proposed "super gun" (c.f. the works of the late Dr. Bull) had considerably greater ranges but were not strictly speaking trainable.   

       Missiles have the advantage that the initial acceleration can be lower, thus limiting the shock applied to fragile objects. I can't see a 7200 RPM ATA HDD being delivered by gun and still being in good order on arrival; ditto, a bottle of single malt whisky.   

       So what you really need is a "Cruise Missile delivery system". That would have the advantage that after dropping your package, the missile could turn round and cruise home again. Pilotless drones that drop things are pretty Baked, but the things they drop are not something that the recipients usually want to get for Christmas.   

       I'll give this a croissant because I've always wanted a 16-inch naval gun.
8th of 7, Dec 17 2002

       //I've always wanted a 16-inch naval gun.//
Why does that not surpr--
No, it's far too easy.
Pharaoh Mobius, Dec 17 2002

       One fun part is that instead of quietly saying:
"Hey, the UPS guy is here."
Instead you get to scream loudly:

krelnik, Dec 17 2002

       Me, I've always wanted a 16-inch naval.
RayfordSteele, Dec 17 2002

       A little physics 101 (I hope I did that right) shows the in-air time is about 60 seconds for a 35km 45 degree initial angle ballistic trajectory. If we have a nice automated (robot pickers + pneumatic tube) warehouse, we might get 3 minutes shelf-to-gun, 1 minute ballistic travel time, 1 minute parasail navigation, so 5 minute delivery, significantly less than any pizza delivery driver in a 35km radius metro area.   

       Reading the fort tilden 16 inch gun page (linked) reveals that these things took a charge of around 600-800 pounds of dynamite. It's definitely going to be costly to make each delivery. Anybody know how much dynamite costs, by the pound? Legit or street prices are fine. A quick search on google only turned up RPG pricesheets. This could turn out to be a significant expense.   

       A more modern alternative would be to replace the chemical explosive propulsion device with a multistage linear magnetic accelerator (railgun). This is not magic or sci-fi, they really exist.   

       The required muzzle-velocity of a 35km ballistic trajectory is about 828m/s. More physics calculations seem to indicate that the pure energy required to accelerate a 5kg package to 828m/s with a 5 meter barrel length is 3.6 MegaJoules. Assuming our railgun is only 10% efficient, we need 36 MegaJoules, or 10 Kilowatt-hours, of electricity for each shot. That is about 50 cents worth of power. Even at 1% efficiency we're only paying $5.00. (Gotta wonder about my physics).   

       m=5kg d=5m barrel a=137km/s^2 (to get to 600m/s in 5 meters and 1/120 second) = 14000 G (ouch) F= 686k Newtons (force) W=3.43M Joules (work) ~= 1 kilowatt-hour (3.6M Joules)   

       Anyhow, enough physics-geeking.   

       Gulherme makes a good point - if the package is shock-proof enough to survive the launch (zero to 1300mph in less than a second), it will probably survive the landing. But I think we need the chute to protect the delivery targets, and also to guarantee sufficient precision to avoid roofs, etc. This is certainly a more "magic" idea, I don't think anybody's done automated parasailing.   

       The goal of this (obviously) half-baked idea is, of course, true instant gratification. Every parent who's ever realized, at 6am, that there is no milk for the kids breakfast cereal, has wished for a truly instant delivery system. If I can cut back on the 20 minutes round-trip to the nearest grocery store, I can handle such emergencies. And don't go telling me to check the milk the night before, my fridge should do that and that's a whole other idea (that's mostly baked).   

       My original plan was a vast, urban pneumatic tube package-switching network. But I figured that was just too expensive (though they have these new tunnel-boring robots now...) It wasn't until much later that I came across the idea of ballistic delivery.   

       I love the aircraft idea that Monkfish, egnor and others proposed, especially combined with some sort of guided package (perhaps we can keep the parasail? We need a soft landing). However, I think we need to worry about aircraft startup times. The best solution is a sort of combination of aircraft-carrier-style catapult (this also shortens our runway) takeoff with an unmanned aircraft.   

       I don't know why everybody complains about the rover. DOT is in live field trials of automated driving systems - we just need something like a "rover lane" on the streets/sidewalks. I don't think it should go cross-country, just hop on the street or sidewalk and go the 35km back home. OK, so it's harebrained.   

       Anyhow, if we use a magnetic linear accelerator, we can just make it a disposable iron or nickel shell of some sort. Problem is, if we use a rail gun we're going to need a sturdy shell, which will increase the weight...   

       I think the biggest problem with this is airspace violations. If we ditch the rover as unrealistic, and use a rail gun to control launch costs, we're still going to be lobbing boxes up to around 28,000 feet, right in with the commercial airliners...
philthechill, Dec 18 2002

       (Chevy Nova Proven Slower than Speeding Bullet in Physics Shocker! Nation Mourns Innocence!)   

       A word in defence of delivery drivers: If the customers are evenly distributed, the average delivery will be about 25km. The newly-invented robot warehouse time applies to any delivery method, so a pizza delivery guy should take an utterly unendurable half-hour or longer.   

       The flight time for the shell-package isn't very significant, but the gun method involves a lot of difficult-to-assess risks and difficult-to-estimate delays: Queueing for the gun (supply of guns will be limited; couriers basically aren't); packing; loading; sticking fingers in ears; safety checks; technical problems; airspace clearance; spotting, locating, retrieving and unpacking item after delivery. I think that all this, averaged out, will be enough to make the human courier competitive, or, on short deliveries, even quicker. When you consider that he can carry as much as you need and hands you your package instead of obliging you to pull it off the roof or hunt for it in the gardens, he starts to seem -- though he's not likely to be, particularly -- rather attractive.   

       The point was just that The "practical" advantage of this sort of method lies in deliveries to distant or otherwise unreachable spots. Getting a package from ten blocks away within twenty minutes isn't really that exciting; getting one at your remote camp-site from a city two time zones away, though, is pretty damn cool.
Monkfish, Dec 18 2002

       // Anybody know how much dynamite costs, by the pound? //   

       We pay about GBP £3.50 a kilo for commercial blasting gelatin in bulk, but it's not suitable as a propellant; what you need is nitrocellulose-based extruded propellant sticks. There's a company in Belgium that manufactures this stuff, I'll try to find a link.
8th of 7, Dec 18 2002

       Prior art: http://www.two4u.com/pizzacats/what_en.html
Richard K, Dec 18 2002

       [philthechill], do your calculations take air resistance into consideration?   

       I worry about the automated parasail; it's new technology and it seems likely to be failure-prone (tangled chute lines, broken machinery, etc).   

       An alternative might be to have simple guided fins. When people make an order, they set out a simple but highly visible target marker on the ground or a designated landing surface. The package has a camera and vision system capable of locating the target marker and steering right into it. If the system is unable to locate the target, or loses the target, or decides it can't reliably steer into the target, it either self-destructs (blowing itself up into fragments of harmless size) or else releases a parachute that causes it to float harmlessly down wherever.   

       This would also solve the problem of having to hunt for the object. On the other hand it also gives anyone the ability to effectively call in an airstrike on any surface they can put a target on. Who's liable when I'm careless and my kid's playing on the target and gets hit? What if the target blows away in the wind at the last minute and the package doesn't have time to "safe" itself and slams into an innocent bystander? What if I put a target on my enemy's car?   

       One way to, uh, work around airspace regulations might be to (ahem) target delivery markets in coastal cities from offshore launchers in international waters. On the other hand you'd effectively be shelling the mainland from your floating artillery platforms, so it's likely you'd be the target of international police action pretty quick-like.
egnor, Dec 18 2002

       If you preloaded the guidance package from ground based data - so that it had an up to date "clean" bird pattern and almanac - then GPS could do this for you, even with a short time-of-flight. No need to designate the target explicitly, you just need the coordinates.
8th of 7, Dec 18 2002

       You'd need coordinates in any case to aim the gun, but GPS is not sufficiently accurate to safely hit anything but a very large target.   

       The idea behind the visible target is to protect bystanders in several ways. One is that it's a visible "don't stand here, dummy" marker. Another is that it allows much higher-resolution targeting than GPS does. Yet another is that it provides an explicit confirmation of location, avoiding the targeting errors (with regrettable consequences) we saw in Afghanistan. Finally, if anything goes wrong, it makes it easy to abort the whole operation; just remove the target and the package will put itself in safe mode.   

       It's well-baked technology in any case, the same stuff they use when the military "paints" a target. (Well, except for the "safe mode" part.)
egnor, Dec 18 2002

       "Unable to clearly identify target, (A)bort, (R)etry, (I)gnore ?"
8th of 7, Dec 18 2002

       Shirley if the package withstands the shock of detonation it does so by absorbing energy, since there is nowhere to deflect it? And if this is the case then it won't reach the required muzzle velocity? I know nothing about ballistics, BTW (can you tell?) but I can't see around this block.   

       Unless you use a trebuchet. Accuracy might be sacrificed, but with on-board homing as discussed above, that's not so much of a problem.
egbert, Dec 21 2002

       Don't worry, it will launch just fine. I can show you some spud guns, orange cannons and pumpkin mortars if you're still worried about problems launching soft projectiles.   

       (The issue is making sure the projectile survives; it will depend on the goods being shipped.)
egnor, Dec 21 2002

       I've just found the Monster Garage page, hurried excitedly back here only to find [thc] had beaten me to it by a long way. Drat, drat and triple drat.
egbert, Dec 22 2002

       What if you used miniature unmanned remote-controlled helicopters to gently and precisely deliver packages to the front lawn? Fly at low altitudes to avoid air traffic and interference from the FAA, and return safely to home base! Sure, it seems to eliminate some the allure of instant gratification, but it's nothing the liberal application of rocket boosters can't fix.
TerranFury, Feb 18 2003

       This service already exists!   

       At Lugnut Stadium, home of the Lansing (MI) Lugnuts (yes, really!!) baseball team, a Hotdog Cannon is used to shoot tightly wrapped hotdogs, with and without onions and/or relish, from the field to fans seated in the stands. It's quite a sight to see.   

       Sometimes it misses its mark and someone other than the person who ordered it gets it, but either way, it's great fun.   

       On occasion, the Cannon is also used to "hand out" give-away souvenirs such as rolled up Lugnuts t-shirts and other goodies to the crowd.
le1rowe, Apr 17 2003

       // getting one at your remote camp-site from a city two time zones away, though, is pretty damn cool. //   

       [monkfish] makes an interesting point. this could be a very useful method of getting supplies to remote locations. transport aircraft regularily cannot land on antarctica during whiteout conditions, and the same for helicopters in Alaska bound to pick up hikers and mountaineeers. instead of making the perilous journey during nasty weather, a one-week's supply of food and any needed meds or equipment could be launched, with the GPS coordinates given by the people on the ground (GPS is becoming rather common technology among backpackers, mountaineers and the like.) two questions: what would be the furthest distance a projectile could be launched given the aforementioned parameters, and how could this Ballistic Delivery be tailored to reach those camped in a snowcave on the side of a mountain without causing an avalanche?
per se, Apr 17 2003

       This idea is basically sound, it may need some fine tuning though. Perhaps every house and apartment building could have a large net for catching things. Wind conditions would provide some difficulty but that could be programmed into the launcher. Everyone may end up having to wear helmets while outdoors but that's just something people would adjust to.
maniacr, Apr 20 2003

       the only problame would be IBM would have a helk of a time if they used a rail gun!!!
andrewh, May 12 2003

       Clever boys at ST Technologies have put together the AGL-ABS (link). It's a grenade launcher that detonates directly over target. It does this by encoding the grenade's programmable timer as it leaves the barrel.   

       A similiar mechanism could deliver packages by deploying a disposable retardation drogue at the target position.   

       This would be an excellent system for delivery from aircraft, especially if combined with GPS and a velocity, windage integration & targeting system.
FloridaManatee, May 13 2003

       What if, through the small .0001% chance for an error, actually occured and it missed the target? Also, what if it hit something on the way to the dstination?
darkknight_152002, Jul 26 2003

       This is very nice when left half-baked. Still gooey on the inside. When baked, it would almost be better to:   

       Have a distributor be in a low-orbit, and shoot the package straight (or nearly straight) down. This would have much better accuracy and subject the package to much less accelleration.   

       This would only work for commonly requested items, as they would need to be pre-stored in the distributor's shuttle in orbit.   

       And of course, it would never work economically, and would be just too easy for criminals to steal things in-route. But a nice visual image leaving it half-baked.
sophocles, Oct 14 2003


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