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physical internet

mechanism to move physical objects LAN-like distances
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Pneumatic tubes are a 19th century technology, still used for some applications - in supermarkets, for example. You place whatever you want transferred in a canister, put the canister in a pipe, and air pressure blows it to it's destination.

My suggestion is to bring this up to date, and sell it as a "physical internet", for things that can't be transferred electronically.

Large, densely populated cities such as London and New York would be the best places to set this up. As the network grows, the need for couriers diminishes and traffic congestion goes down. Sending documents by air-tube would be both cheaper and faster than alternatives such as courier and snail mail.

Use an adapted cable-laying/drilling robot to network three or four buildings with pneumatic tubes. Any other business that want to is welcome to graft themselves onto this core network. You only need to lay a single link into the network - it's nodes are smart enough to route canisters (they have addressing information embedded in them - bar codes would be simple) like the real net routes packets. In this way, the cost of building the infrastructure is spread across many organisations.

The obvious problem, especially somewhere like London, is that you'd have to tunnel around all the other junk in the earth. Tube trains, electric cables, cellars, roman ruins...

djotto, Jun 19 2000

Pneumatic Tubes - Dead Media http://www.deadmedi...s/index-cat.html#pn
great idea - but fully baked and consumed. there is apparently a system such as this still in operation in Prague which has been in place since the 1920s. [macm, Jun 19 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Internet Access via Pneumatic Tubes http://slashdot.org...id=01/05/07/1313252
Not the same thing at all, but. [egnor, Jun 19 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) Pneumatic networking. http://www.dself.de...eumess/pneumess.htm
Some good weird stuff on this site. [angel, Jun 19 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

The Pneumatic Post of Paris http://www.cix.co.u...neumatic/book1.html
Actually mentioned by mgrant on April 12. [StarChaser, Jun 19 2000, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(??) Monster House - Retro-Future Episode http://dsc.discover...re/retrofuture.html
It will even send cold beers to the living room. (Scroll to bottom) [Klaatu, Oct 04 2004]

Updated link to Museum of RetroTechnology page (above "Pneumatic networking." link) http://www.douglas-...eumess/pneumess.htm
[notexactly, Jan 15 2020]


       I worked briefly at a large office building on the outskirts of Amsterdam. This building had a fantastic distribution method for small packages and documents. It was essentially a small railway which ran round the whole building on the ceiling. The 'trains' were transparent boxes which held whatever needed transporting. Where two tracks crossed on the ceiling, there would be a turntable piece of track which would swivel with the train on it. There were tracks going up through the ceiling, making the rail network 3-dimensional. At several points in the building there were huge intersections and marshalling yards for these things and at several points on each floor there were places where you could put something in a box, dial in its destination and send it off.   

       Really a waste of money, but a joy to watch these things zooming about.
hippo, Jul 05 2000

       A old-timer journalist friend of mine once told me about the days when they made newspapers without computers. This included conveyor belts in newsrooms to transfer pages of type-written copy from one place to another in the building. The paper and carbon-paper copies frequently got caught up in the mechanism and the newspaper employed two full-time members of staff to maintain and un-clog the system.
gilest, Jul 05 2000

       Hey Hippo, I love the distribution method you described. It would have been cool just to sit and watch it work
mirage, Aug 21 2000

       A physical internet would be a great idea, but all the tunnels would be expensive. Carrier pigeons are a proven technology that can be scaled up to include geese and/ or eagles.
1978tomy, Dec 26 2000

       Why put it underground? I think it would be cool to watch canisters zip through transparent hamster-habitrail-type tubes. Of course, the hamsters might object...
nick_n_uit, Dec 26 2000

       They'd all be unconscious from being hit by the canisters...Besides, hamsters don't have a very powerful lobby.
StarChaser, Feb 09 2001

       We used to have such a system, it was known as the railway network. It was said that 100 years ago, when Great Britain had the most extensive railway network for its size, that the country resembled a vast marshalling yard, with wagons being sent from villages at one end of the country to another.
John Youles, Feb 09 2001

       I agree, the tubes should be clear and strung between buildings for people to watch the zooming cannisters. You could even put blinkenlights on the cannisters for added effect... Perhaps sequenced to play a message in the persistance of vision at high speeds.
badoingdoing, Feb 09 2001

       Blinkenlites are -always- good. Would be cute to rig them to spell things as they zip by...
StarChaser, Feb 10 2001

       Paris had a complex system of pnumatic tubes which connected some of the post offices together. It was put in service in 1866 and worked until march 1984. It was used to transmit telegrams. With the advent of the telephone and telex after the second world war, the system started to wind down.
mgrant, Apr 12 2001

       I read an idea like this in Wired magazine a while back. It was to be used to transport things like spaghetti, and sweaters in an unassembled form (sweater = yarn + instructions). The coolest part was that the packet header would be made of bits of colored gelatin-- white for 1 and black for 0.
ejs, May 22 2001

       I read somewhere that for a while the world's highest data transfer rate was on Wall Street where two buildings were exchanging backup tapes by tube.
kamakala, Jul 31 2001

       When I was a smaller brat, there was a J C Penney store which had the aforementioned overhead system. It was the only reason I would go on otherwise dull shopping expiditions.
thumbwax, Jul 31 2001

       John Youles: of course now we have a pile of scrap metal that explodes at random intervals - unfortunately some people are still under the delusion that it is a form of transport and will wait hours for a lump that can barelysupport their weight to roll past and then they trundle off at walking pace until they reach London and are buried alive   

       incidentally to save arguments and hamster strikes couldnt it be possible to just get the hamsters to eat fireworks and use them to carry the messages (they could team up for large packages   

       starchaser: it might not be powerful but it is very nicely decorated and the receptionist is very polite
chud, Jul 31 2001

       Baked - sort of While it isn't the pneumatic tubes, the postal systems (public and private) of the world do "move physical objects LAN-like distances." The USPS system of decentralized sorting/distribution is markedly similar to the internet.   

       Implementation costs for your solution would be astronomical. Additionally, the per-use cost would probably be higher than for a postal letter or package. Internet per-use cost is almost nonexistent, but for your pneumatic tubes you need lots and lots of pressurized air, which ain't gonna be free.   

       You might as well wish for 3-D faxing or teleportation. equally WIBNI
quarterbaker, Jul 31 2001

       If you think the internet has problems with viruses, just wait until REAL viruses can be sent...
boris, Oct 28 2001

       Quarterbaker: Pressurized air isn't *that* expensive. The pneumatic tubes they use in banks don't cost that much to operate. And the postal service is a physical WAN, not a physical LAN. In short, you're all wet.
egnor, Oct 28 2001

       Be nice.   

       The air itself isn't expensive, but big compressors, capable of shooting several-pound packages through tubes are going to be. And you'll need a fair amount of them as well.   

       On the other hand, it's not impossible. It was done in Paris...in 1866.   

       A link appears.
StarChaser, Oct 28 2001

       I want one of these to bring me my mail from the mailbox like in one of the "Honey I Shrunk The Kids" movies.
UhhOK, Jan 03 2002

       How about this?   

       Install a compressed air cannon on the roof of every building, and a large metal funnel.   

       Compressed air could be used to "fire" capsules of a regulated size and shape between buildings. A computer would be connected to the cannon, and could calculate the force and direction necessary. Capsules could be "passed on" to buildings further away using a relay system. A simple mechanism could be put together to prevent people firing just any old crap (beer cans, small animals in jars,etc)   

       This would eliminate the need for costly perspex tubes!   

       you could put twinkling lights on tubes to make them look pretty at night!   

       The possibilities are endless!
gargarax, Jan 03 2002

       But then you have to listen to *plung* *whir* *FWOOMP* every few seconds. (That's catch, aim and fire for the sound effect challenged)
phoenix, Jan 03 2002

       // Install a compressed air cannon on the roof of every building, and a large metal funnel.//   

       Not so good for fragile packages though. And what happens when your package meets a pigeon in mid-air? You thought the hamsters were ticked...
GenYus, Jan 20 2004

       connect it to this. <link>
Klaatu, Jan 20 2004

       The existing post office systems are already doing exactly this and in fact have many of the features of the internet
theircompetitor, Jan 20 2004

       Think this sounds fun, if for no reason but to send random objects to enemies just to confuse them, i.e these firework eating hamsters spoken of.
echo, Feb 28 2004

       These are all too simple. Hydraulics is much louder, hotter, and messier.
normzone, Feb 28 2004

       As about 75% of the net is porn, I suppose I can guess what will be delivered by this sytem... bigger d*cks!
missbossy, Apr 06 2004

       Just ran into this one. The system should use electromagnetics instead of air. You would have a vacume in the tube to help reduce friction. I am sure that at one time if you mentioned an electric grid, people would have told you that it cost way to much, or how about a millions of miles of steel for rail tracks or the mountains that were turned into concrete for the interstate systems. This system ought to be built as an international package (rather than packet) based internet. If you take the cost of a jet full of packages like what fedex uses, this could become quite affordable.
dlapham, Jan 07 2005

       I did some work at a large chemical company that had an old factory. The floorspace was huge, and there was the compressed air tubes running throughout it. It actually inspired me to jot down a list of what made it the same as the internet.   

       -cliped from and email in 92-   

       You put the package (packet) in the tube and shut the door. It then rockets away. The person (IP) receiving the packet slides in the screen (listens). If the person who has requested the packet doesn't receive it (offline) it goes on to the the hub at the front desk (router) which will put it back in to the proper tube (segment) and it returns back the original sender (lost packet).   

       To see if your receiving IP (person) is online you call (ping) them, and if they answer the phone they are online and reply "Hello?" (ping returned). If your packet gets lost in the ether (compressed air) you can trace it by calling everyone along the line and seeing what's up (hops), and how long they take (latency) to answer their phone.   

       Last but not least, if you send someone a packet with a stink bomb in it or some locusts or something (Denial Of Service (DOS)attack), that person will likely go offline and not speak to you anymore, effectively crashing their box (cubicle).   

       - clip end -   

       I'm sure the list can go on and on like I tend to.........
Giblet, Jan 08 2005

       How would you prevent theft? it would be so simple to grab those packages, and probably irresistable. my fingers are itching just thinking about it.
elfling, Jan 10 2005

       All this because wives can't stand to see their husbands hanging around the house all day.
mensmaximus, Jan 10 2005


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