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Internet Access Via Pneumatic Tubes -- Whooosh! 137

selectspec writes: "Old pnuematic tubes used for delivering mail in 19th century cities like New York possibly could be used as piping to hold new fiber lines. Accoding to this nytimes article the tubes were used to deliver mail through New York City via pressurized air in 1897. Now, an entrepreneur wants to use the tubes instead of laying new pipes which would cost upwards of 100 million dollars a mile in New York City." Pneumatic tubes have been ahead of their time for over a century, so it's cool to see some of their inherent latency problems can be overcome by creative re-use.
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Internet Access Via Pneumatic Tubes -- Whooosh!

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Scene: Comms room. BOFH & PFY sit playing Quake.

    PFY: Hey, we're loosing packets!
    BOFH: Hmmm, looks like a segment on the third floor is blocked. Here, you'll need this Hands the PFY a plunger, high pressure hose, and a fire extinguisher

    Scene: Third floor. We hear mad squaking and see thick black smoke and flames

    PFY: Oh shit, not again! PFY runs to 'phone, calls BOFH
    PFY (Into 'phone): Yeah, looks like the grease ran dry and the friction got 'em. Reckon we've lost about 25% of the pidgeons.

    Scene: A little while later, Cafateria. Suit stands at counter.

    Suit: That looks nice, what is it exactly?
    BOFH (Posing as Chef): Uh, Duck Suprise!
    Suit: Oh, sounds lovely. I'll take some.

    Fade to black. We hear the faint sounds of the PFY giggling in the background.

    I like that idea!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Looks like in Italy (more precisely in Rome) we have the copyright... look at this: tml At a point, they say: "Due mesi fa, FastWeb si è aggiudicata la gara indetta dalle Poste Italiane per l?utilizzo della rete di posta pneumatica al fine di cablare il centro di Roma con la fibra ottica..." Ok, I translate: "Two months ago FastWeb won the contest for the use of the pneumatic mail network, with the aim of wiring the center of Rome with optic fiber..."
  • I think for this application, greased ferrets might be more effective than pigeons. Time to amend the RFC...

    At least if we go to ferrets, we can say that the Internet not only sucks (and blows), but bites as well.
  • This idea has a solid historical base. A company named WilTel uses decommissioned oil pipelines as conduits for fiber optic cables. They began in 1986. WilTel was sold, and I do not know what has become of it. I believe WorldCom acquired much of the network. Regardless, decommissioned tubes are fiber optic conduits waiting for use.
  • So that's why hot dogs went so popular in old New York. They were delivered by p-commerce.
  • for whatever reason, BGSU decided not to use their existing tunnel system (crawl spaces w/nice hatches) and instead made trenches all over campus to lay the new lines.. They said it was more economical to do that than to try and figure out what wires were what...

    Personally, I think that the pneumatic tubes would be a nice idea, but probably just as difficult..

    What they *should* do is use old subway lines as roadways... :) Although, "Winston" may be against that... ;-)
  • Here in Australia, we unfortunately experienced the down-sides of cabling in tubing. One of our major teclos - Telstra [] had their pipes to Indonesia/Asia cut by pirates earlier this year, causing widespread chaos across the country.

    The routing turmoil it created was akin to diverting a raging river down your house's drainpipes..

    Rumors were being spread that Telstra had prior knowledge that this was going to happen, threats were made, and they passed them off as an extortion attempt.

    What are the moral/fiscal implications of this? Surely such a major telco/ISP/Bandwidth carrier should pay more attention to such threats, and make sure that they dont come to fruit. Not only did THEIR customers suffer, but rather the whole country did.

    Imagine a mishap with this type of tubing, sometimes Oops! just cant cut it..

  • by RayChuang ( 10181 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @06:41AM (#240752)
    What's interesting is that a lot of old infrastructure has been used to lay fiber-optic cable in cities.

    Because fiber-optic cables tend to be much more tolerant of bad external conditions than copper cables, it's small wonder why old sewage systems and the old pneumatic tubes mentioned in the article are being used to run fiber-optic lines. After all, many railroads made a ton of money using their right-of-way land to run copper and later fiber-optic lines (Southern Pacific was famous for doing this--that's how the modern Sprint communications company was born).
  • If you don't have direct line of sight, you'll never get a signal through (there are a lot of phone cells in NYC.)

    Even at that, there is so much echo and shadowing, you can't get a clean signal through without such a performance degradation that its useless. (Its okay for voice quality but that's it.)

    In a big city like NYC, Tokyo etc. you're either using cable for your TV signal or you don't watch it.
  • The last few years, we've seen all sorts of crews buring plastic tubing along railroad right-of-ways.

    By chance, yesterday, I saw a crew busy working at a railroad crossing. They had a hi-rail truck and a hi-rail crane, with a portable compressor.

    A strange contraption connected to the compressor was sucking cable from a big spool (very fast, at about 1m/s). What was surprising was the nearly silent operation of the thingamajig along with the compressor (they usually make a lot of racket).

    I suppose that the thing blows air in the tube, and the fiber cable is sucked along with a venturi effect.


  • He anwsered your question. It works fine for voide grade, but nothing above that..
  • I believe he's talking about using this to wire buildings that already have an old pnuematic infrastructure...
  • I agree $100 million /mile is ridulous, even for NYC. Somebody screwed up a decimal place somewhere. When they talk a about building a new stadium for the Yankees, the total cost is less than $1 billion. So which would rather have a new stadium, or 10 miles of cable?

    I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations ...
  • Check out this picture: /i z2103.jpg

    and its description:
    "Much time was spent in the manual redirection of cylinders but, after experiments in 1931, automatic navigation was introduced using apparatus which could accept or pass on
    cylinders according to the setting of electrically conducting bands encircling the cylinders. "
    ( ry /tl0003.txt)

    There could be all kinds of prior art from packet, er, capsule routing system.
  • That's right. Physics is Phun!

  • Speaking of HD's/former Hech's in the NoVA area, the old Hech's near Fairfax Circle is now a HD. So I have 2 HD's no less than a mile from my house.

    Both are still crowded as hell on Saturday.
  • IP over avian carriers may become a viable network technology with the addition of pnumatic tubes. I'd guess we could get them pigeons up to 50 or 60 miles per hour, cutting network latency and improving throughput. Of course this would give new meaning to network collision.
  • To spend money on pnuematic tubing is a complete scam and waste. First off it isn't going to send the light down a fiber line any faster than any other tube, so it would be senseless to go with pnuematic tubing as opposed to plain old PVC tubes from your local hardward store.

    They mention that back in 18xx they tested the system by sending a live cat in a tube. I wonder what would happen if we sent a troll through the system? Hopefully there would be plenty of breaks and obstructions.

    BTW - just for clarification, idiot, they are using the *existing* tubes in New York City, where it is nearly impossible to run any new lines... the city is built layer upon layer upon layer, and nobody is really sure what does what underground. The classic restaurant in New York has a bathroom that is in the corner, go down the stairs, 100 feet down a cooridor, down some more stairs, make a right, 50 feet across, and the bathroom is five feet up.

    Now picture a few square miles worth of these labrythine tunnels in 3D, with sewer, subway and other services running between them, and you'll realize how much easier it is to use existing pipes than try to go through what is necessary to figure out who to pay, who has rights and where you should dig to lay new lines.


  • "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

    "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes." - Dr. Warren Jackson, Director, UTCS

    (Once again, slashdot discussions come back to fortune(1) quotes... Or is it "recycling"? :) )


    (What's with this lameness filter bullshit?)
    ...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...
  • While the latency would be pretty bad, at least you're guaranteed in-order receipt of messages.

    ...More Powerful than Otto Preminger...
  • Excellent book, as soon as I saw this topic I thought of Victorian Internet. Would move the legacy of the telegraph into the Information age. I also recently heard on NPR a show detailing how Pneumatic Tubes are making a come back. Specifically in hospital centers. They are being used as a way to distribute medications from centralized dispensories, and to bring things like blood samples to labs.
  • by toofast ( 20646 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:49AM (#240766)
    Makes sense. Why not reuse? People seem to be making remarkable efforts with domestic recycling and waste management, it only makes sense that governments do the same -- and it will cost taxpayers less money in the process!

  • Yup, I thought of that too, but the first image I got was "The Difference Engine". A novel by William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, in case you've never heard of it.
  • by Benjamin Shniper ( 24107 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @08:07AM (#240768) Homepage
    Here's an idea: we build pyramids instead of graves. Sure it will cost the taxpayers and businesses more, but think of the extra money we can pay to the workers!

    There's plenty of work for contractors to do in NYC, and the pipes can be exposed and repaired later. Give me a break!

    And what do you think the difference between an old,rusty iron isulator for the fiber cable is and a new, shiny plastic one? Neither will be truly functional, just space holders to keep the other stuff out of the fiber system.

  • Questionable?

    Sounds like good economics to me. What really counts in a restaurant (other than the building not smelling like sulfur or lacking a roof, etc) is the food. Chili's are nice places to eat in so I would think the new restaurant would be fine.


  • Actually, I don't eat out too much, but if I wanted Mexican, I would go to Rio Grande. Hey, they serve goat!


  • I dunno, in places of business there seems to be an increasing tendency to bulldoze the entire thing and rebuild from scratch. Especially commercial locations.

    In Leesburg, VA, Home Depot built a store about 1/4 mile from Hechinger's. When Hechinger's went under, no doubt hastened by HD's tactics, they left a building which has now been vacant for over two years... and this is in one of the fastest growing counties in the country. How much you wanna bet when the property does get reused, the building is demolished?

    Reduce, reuse, recycle. We should try it some time.


  • by dkh2 ( 29130 ) <dkh2 AT WhyDoMyTitsItch DOT com> on Monday May 07, 2001 @08:33AM (#240772) Homepage
    For those who haven't guessed yet, in this usage "CPIP" stands for "Compressed Pidgeon In Pipe"

    Code commentary is like sex.
    If it's good, it's VERY good.

  • of a pneumatic capsule full of mag tapes.


  • I was wondering when someone was going to mention this. Williams used their unused pipleines to run their own back bone. Think about it, they already had the rights to it. The only other non-communication industry that has as much or more right-of-way is the railroad. They've been making big-bucks leasing their right-of-way to communication companies for fiber and other cabling.

  • Yup. I remember seeing that, too. They buried quite a bit of it, too. At least 8 conduits went in. Is it their fiber or did they lease the ROW?

  • Or for those who have been successful (lucky bastards!) in forgetting they ever had the misfortune of reading it.
  • It *has* to be a mistake. Fibre installation typically costs $100,000 per mile
    Even that sounds expensive but, don't forget that you not only have to dig and bury the cable. You also have to acquire a ridiculous amount of permits and you have to buy/lease the right of way. That's where the big dollars go.

    The actual cost of whatever your laying is trivial compared with the cost of the trench. That's why you'd typically see lots of ductwork being installed.
  • So, if these old pneumatic tubes aren't useable, or don't go where the fiber is needed, what prevents some smart outfit from making a tunnel boring machine that digs a tunnel just big enough to run optical fibre?

    At least as expensive as using a shallow trench. You need to take care to avoid existing tunnels, ductwork, cables, etc.
    It would make rather a mess for a TBM to chew through a pipe carrying water or gass, if you hit an electricity cable or train running tunnel then you'd also need a new TBM.
  • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @12:48PM (#240779)
    Firstly, are those tubes still in good condition? They've been unused for decades--they might be full of rainwater, sewage, etc.

    The expensive bit is digging trenches to lay new ducting, getting rainwater/sewage out of some old stuff costs far less.

    Secondly, would the tubes have to be converted in any way at all?

    Typically underground fibre is fed through tubes around 2mm internal bore (or rather blown through with compressed air). Several of these are bundled together in a tough sheath then fed through ducting. The tubes simply serve as ducting, only issue is that they are probably a different size from modern ductwork.

    Thirdly, are the tubes still readily accessible? Right now, I'm thinking of the old subway tunnels in the District of Columbia and New York City. Some of them are still down there, but the entrances/exits have long been sealed.

    Boring a shaft could easily be cheaper than digging a trench over the same distance...

  • What about cellphones and radio?

  • 100 Million per mile?

    How did they get that? Wouldn't a good wireless system be much better than even laying down fiber?
  • latency problems.

    I'll say. There might be latency problems, but never underestimate the bandwidth of a stream of MRAM chips hurtling your way. ;-P

    Note for the humour-challenged: This is a joke.
    I'm an assembly guru ... What's a stack?

  • It's super high bandwidth too. Put a 60GB hard drive in a capsule and send it cross town. 60Gb in a few minutes. Not bad!
  • Have you calculated the air-speed velocity of an unladen Pigeon?

    Can it carry a coconut by gripping it by the husk?
  • > African or European?

    I don't know!


    (/me falls into ravine of general nastiness.)
  • My office is in one end of a hospital, which is still equiped with tubes. The hospital is about 30 years old, so the use of tubes isn't ancient.

    The tube station I've seen was in the maintenance department, used mostly for zipping plans and specs about. The canisters were about 18 inches long, with rubber-stopped ends.

    The stations are controlled by 70s-battelstar-gallactica-like buttons, knobs, and lights, used to select the destination of the torpedo.

    The air can still be heard wooshing through the ducts.
  • so even if it blows, someone still needs to go down there. the article says so in the last paragraph...
    "We need to go down there."
  • Hey, did NYC ever clean up that river of slime in Ghostbusters II []? :^)
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:52AM (#240789) Homepage Journal

    The first thing I thought of, when reading the story, was Terry Gilliam's movie, "Brazil."

    When will we have Robert de Niro zip-lining into people's apartments to fix their networks without a 27B-6?

  • How exactly would you state your patent for this, anyways?

    Insert fiber cable into tube. Pull out of other end. Plug in.

    Isn't that one of those natural and obvious advancements of technology that patents don't cover?
  • Now I can send packets old-school style!
  • by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @06:01AM (#240792) Homepage Journal

    This reminds me somewhat of the first implementation of the avian IP network discussed earlier in this forum.

    There seems to be a great deal of potential for using pneumatic tubes as part of IP network.

    Right off I can think of one problem though. If I were to load my tube with a nonstandard payload, of say a bunch of "holes" (the variety that is produced by a 3-ring punch) or the ever favorite chads then my recipient would likely suffer from packet fragmentation in a big way.

  • My boss keeps putting pressure in my back, but all I can see ahead is vacuum...
  • "Firstly, are those tubes still in good condition? They've been unused for decades--they might be full of rainwater, sewage, etc."

    Fiber lines can get very dirty without functionality being affected. You just can't bend 'em.

    "Secondly, would the tubes have to be converted in any way at all? Remember, the tubes are dead tech now. They weren't designed for cable, as that was still decades away."

    I don't see what would need to be converted. A tube is a tube. There may need to be new connectors, quite a few changes in the way they are interconnected, but the premise remains the same. The advantage to using these tubes isn't in the tube design at all. It's in the fact that THEY'RE ALREADY THERE. Thus, we don't have to dig up big cities to lay them down. (trust me, it's turning traffic in Philly to shit) So they go down and find the tubes, take a month or so to map them out, then make some plans as to how to use them/change them, etc. Then they make their modifications, and install the cable.

    The fact remains that digging up streets will take more time, cost more money, and make more of a mess.

    "Thirdly, are the tubes still readily accessible? Right now, I'm thinking of the old subway tunnels in the District of Columbia and New York City. Some of them are still down there, but the entrances/exits have long been sealed."

    That's a good question. But I'm thinking that if they know the tubes are there, they can find the tubes. And They may need to dig up a street or two or re-route subway traffic for a day or so to find them, but it's still better than digging up the whole damn city.

  • To put PVC pipes in you have to dig up the ground. These pipes are already in place, ust send in a little robot to pull the fiber through behind it and you don't have to bother breaking ground. The article says it would cost several million to put in a system of conduites that mimic these ald tubes, several million dollars isn't a small amount of money to be saved.
    =\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\=\ =\=\=\=\

  • Coincidentally, Home Depot uses pneumatic tubes to send cash back and forth from the registers to the back office or wherever they're hording it in the building.


  • This topic reminded me of an article I read several years ago in Wired. Fortunately, that site maintains a freely accessible online archive of past issues, so I was able to dig up a link.

    The article talks about how great that technology was (is) and how theories exist about how the owner of a delivery truck company leveraged influence with the city managers to get the tube system dismantled so that he could sell delivery trucks to the city.

    Here's a link [] to the article.

  • Another cool idea, a.k.a. "stupid reality."

    Those pneumatic tubes are made of cast iron that has been oxidizing in New York's ground for over a century. Let's just say you COULD snake your cables through those corroded pipes, get past all the cracks and breaks, and make your way to where you want to go. Your destination had better be a post office, 'cause that's where those old babies take you. Seems to me, though, that unless you're expecting to move PAPER through your fibers, a phone company central office would be a much better bet for terminating your telecom lines.

    Whoever said "there's one born every day" grossly underestimated the extent of the problem.


  • New York's first public water system used hollow logs for pipes, and I read somewhere that some of these logs are actually still in use to this day. Seems a little unlikely but I was wondering if anyone had some info on this.

  • 100 million a mile? That doesn't sound too realistic. Is that supposed to be just for new pipes or for new pipes and fiber optics. If that's how much it costs to do things no wonder DSL and stuff like it fails. Maybe they should rethink their buisness plan if it costs 1/10th of a billion dollars to dig up the ground and put down metal and glass wire for 1 mile.

  • People would like to close their eyes so that a huge problem would disappear without having to deal with it, and then they dress this up as a 'solution' and say they're 'saving millions of dollars per mile' for their cabling project.

    Think about this, New York is a festering hive of who-knows-what, layer upon layer of cabling, pipes, electrical conduits, and other miscellaneous detrius of centuries of city living.

    New York has been the most densely populated 'modern' city for quite a long time, and by that I mean all the little things like electrical and water access everywhere, etc.

    In the past when something broke, they pathced it, instead of doing a more thorough fix, they just paved over a huge sinkhole in a road without looking into why it sunk in the first place, they just pile more new crap on top of the old crap until it's impossible to sort out what lies under the surface.

    Now someone want to use an ancient (by modern standards) system, in whatever unknown condition it is in, and try to make a new utility out of it. People are going to come to depend on this utility like they depend on electricity and water, but the infrastructure being used to build it is already over a hundred years old.

    'We don't want to dig up the city' they say, 'it'll cost too much money'.

    Yes, it will cost a lot of money, but you know what? That money will actually go stright into the economy, workmen will have jobs to go to for the next decade; city infrastructure will be vastly improved as old pipes and cabling are exposed and replaced as their condition is shown; perhaps a new design in city infrastructure management will be put in place so that the same problem doesn't happen again, we could make the entire city of New York what the Epcot Center was supposed to be.

    Do you people not have vision at all? This could be the spark for the largest urban redevelopment project ever attempted by humankind, but all you people can do is put your hands over your eyes and carry on the chant 'Do it the cheap fast way!'.

    Your lack of vision disturbe me.

  • They tell me the Vatican city still actually uses its pneumatic pipe system -- since it still works and they often have to pass original documents (something that's just not possible via FAX and email). Here the "outdated" technology can actually be superior to the modern "technology" of hiring couriers!
  • "...fix their networks without a 27B-6?"

    That'd be 27B/6 - 'twenty-seven b stroke six'. :)

    Great movie.

  • A similar thing has happened in London. There used to be loads of pipes underground carrying high presure steam around to operate things like London Bridge. Eventually they stopped being used when electricity became widespread, but now they are being used for fibres. Can't remember the name of the company who owned them, but they made a fortune selling the pipes.
  • I always thought that we'd have tubes for travel by 2001. Kinda like the elevators in the Jetsons cartoon.

    I know they've been using abandoned mail ducts for running copper coax and fiber.

    This was a good article! This was news for nerds and stuff that matters!
  • If people are interested, Standage's "Victorian Internet []" deals with pneumatic tubes a fair amount. They were a good complement to the telegraph for short distances since they were actually faster (skipping the encoding and decoding steps).
  • "Your lack of vision disturbe me."

    yes... I have visions. Visions of decades long rebuild projects in the heart of manhattan that reduce the already 30 mile an hour average traffic to 15mph, that increase commute times and drive up cab fees to absurd levels. YES! The glorious white elephat visions of bloated disorganized public infrastucture projects that go on aimlessly for years, sucking up billions in tax dollars and showing little in return. The endless political bickering that will ensure the project is never really completed. Oh! the Visions I see!

    Yeah, and in case you hadn't noticed, NY is already Disneyfied [] enough thank you without the "Epcot Ideal" you so childishly whine for it to become.

  • Um, did you read the article, or is this supposed to be funny? I'm a little confused.

    You do realize that the tubing they are talking about has been sitting in the ground and buildings for more than 100 years? That they aren't talking about putting in any new tubing?

    Just checking. I didn't know if I should mod this as Funny or Flaimbait, so I declined to do either.


  • At the college I work for, we used our existing steam pipes to hold the fiber connecting buildings on campus...absolutely perfect conduit, and didn't require trenching (much) on our historic property. Plus, a bomb could level the school, and we'd still have network (although if no one is here to use it, is it really a network?)
  • ...that manual labor in NYC works about 1 hour per day, in the middle of the night, with thirteen mandatory coffee breaks, on a time and materials basis charged back to the taxpayers. Dirty, filthy union leeches sucking on the backs of hard-working wall street yuppies.
  • Yeah, but the last 10 feet is a bitch... When I was a work-study here [] I once had to ask a student to hold my legs while I leaned out the window to swing some ethernet cable to my boss two floors down and one window over. They were desperate to get that cutting-edge new media center on-line I guess.

    And for the two months I worked in hell [], tenants were taking it on themselves to run cable up the internal inter-floor mail chutes. Only people were still trying to drop physical mail in them...

  • The telegraph, the Victorian Internet according to the book of that name, suffered from the same "last mile" problem that the Internet today experiences. The answer then was another paired technology, the pneumatic tube system in cities.

    Telegraphers in suburban or other city center locations, according to the book, could communicate directly with other telegraph offices. But it was impractical to have a telegraph office distributed for each business or residential user. Thus the message was communicated first by hand delivery to a telegraph office located centrally in the city, then transcribed by the receiving telegrapher, sent by pneumatic tube to a location near the recipient, and then hand delivered from there.

    It was only the wide availability of telephones that destroyed both the telegraph and the pneumatic tube system. Western Union, for example, continued for some years to deliver telegraphs over the last mile via local telephony instead of hand delivery.

    So using the pneumatic tube system is a strange echo of a proven old technology, one that we are usually ignorant of because we don't look at our history carefully.

    One remaining question will be, are there sufficient concentrations of users (department stores or insurance companies, for example) at the endings of these pneumatic tube companies, or have they left for the suburbs? If the latter, maybe this will promote a return to a vital central city in places where such infrastructure has been preserved.

  • Does it bother anyone else that the kid who's pursuing this got a patent for the idea? Like: I'll run fiber through a pipe. The pipe used to be used for pneumatic mail. Therefore this is a fresh invention based on what the pipe once was. What's not entirely obvious about taking any existing pipe and running fiber through it?
  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:59AM (#240814) Journal
    Each container was labeled to indicate the destination of its contents. Special delivery letters were delivered within one hour; regular letters within three.

    Thinking about this, I realized that this compares favorably with email, in that between meetings, and so on, the response times are similar. This puts a new light on the commerce of the early 20th century. However:

    "the pneumatic service began to pale next to the new technology of the motor-wagon, which could deliver mail two to three times faster than a horse-drawn cart with equal or greater volume and more than 10 times the volume of a pneumatic tube, while only slightly slower."

    Now that has gone to hell in a handbasket since then.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • Physics doesn't suck.
  • Matt knew that those pipes won't just disappear.
  • I can just see it now: April 1st 2002 RFCXXXX High Latency Internet Transport Mechanism via Phneumatic Tubes:
    1. Write message on piece of paper
    2. Insert message into capsule thingy
    3. Perform AS2IP (air suction to IP) address mapping
    4. Fire away

    Can enhance security by writing message in pig latin.
  • There's a sucker born every minute...

    . . .

  • by donutz ( 195717 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:56AM (#240819) Homepage Journal
    pneumatic in a sense, someone who gets their access thru them could say their internet really sucks? or would that be blows . . .

    . . .

  • by egjertse ( 197141 ) < minus city> on Monday May 07, 2001 @05:55AM (#240820) Homepage
    Wow! Pneumatic tubes must be exactly what The RFC 1149 project [] needs. Imagine using these for LAN and corporate networks - add a few hundred pigeons, a barrel of grease and voila! High-speed CPIP communication.
  • Pneumatic tubes are the ONLY way my request for a vacation at the new Fantasy Island can get delivered....
  • I don't know about that... I recall a double drive through at Taco Cabana... I think it used a chain-driven lift system on the second lane, like a dumbwaiter of years past, but I dont nkow if it made a big circle like a Ferris Wheel or what.... The food went from the restaurant, over the first drive through, to the second drive through.

    Been too long since I've been to Taco Cabana

  • The building was built in 1994, they had the tube system built in. Put in your tube, pick a button and off it goes. Moves orders from the order desk to the wareheouse, to accounting and back again. Hell, my bank still uses them at the drive-thru...
  • Hospitals still use them here in Canada too. I can't believe no one mentioned Costco, at the one where I live every cash register has a tube station, the clerks can send off paperwork without leaving their post.
  • I imagine it wouldn't be terribly hard to reinforce a 100 year old pipe. A quick and dirty way could be to flood them with a polymer to line the pipes, fill the cracks, and smooth out the surfaces, literally giving them a new life.


    This useless bit of information was brought to you by....uh, who's our sponsor again?
  • Here is a good link to what Con Ed (NYC's Utility company) is doing to get in on the act. Notice they can get a whole telecom network for $110 million []

  • . . . that if I stuff carrier pigeons holding IP datagrams inside of these pneumatic tubes that I'm tunneling?
  • I don't think you quite understand. This is fiber optics we're talking here. Here at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) we have two OC3s. One for the internet and one for I2. An OC3 is a huge fiber optic cable. If you were to slice open the cable you would not only be in big big trouble but you would find an interesting cross section. Hey? Where's the fiber? It's a small little circle in the middle of a pile of insulation. Fiber optic cable carries so much data so fast you only need a small bundle of it to get super high speed access. It just requires a lot of protection because it is so fragile.
  • MCI thought they would do some recyling of their own about 10 years ago. They bought a company called Access Transmission Service which owned all of Western Union's conduit in urban locations. (I don't know if ATS was a spinoff of WU or if they bought the conduit in the great WU sell-off in the late 80s...) This conduit was located in something like 17 major downtown areas. On paper the deal looked perfect for MCI. It was a chance to jump on the Metro Access market that MFS, Teleport, and others were building. However, as the story was related to me, once the deal was done, MCI discovered they bought an aged, crumbling conduit system that would need a huge investment to rehabilitate. Some of the conduit was usable, but much was made out of wood and caving in. What wasn't caving in was filled with old retired cable that may or may not be able to be pulled out in one piece. WU was almost always strapped for cash, so much of the conduit was never properly maintained. Can pnumatic tubes that have seen no maintenance in the last 75-100 years be in any sort of usable shape?

    Granted, in some cities the ATS right-of-way alone was valuable, but utilizing it required a great deal more than pulling new cable through existing conduit. In many large cities you can still find WU manholes right next to the Bell manholes, but I haven't heard of any cities where the WU conduit has been used extensively. Has anyone else?


  • Internet Access via Carrier Pigeons... It'll be good for everyone in areas where there's no broadband schedualed for the next 5 years (like me, damn 56k, three hours for the Linux Kernel). Unfourtunatly it will be more limited to my Central Office than DSL. I'll have five "plans": One Pigeon with One packet at a time (2-300bps). 10 Pigeons with one Packet each. (20bps-3k). 1 Pigeon with 10 Packets (20bps-3k). 10 Pigeons with 10 Packets each (200bps-30k). Or for the Wealthy, the BroadPigeon option, 100 Pigeons with 10 packets each, (2k-300k).

    Of course you'll be more likley to get closer to 2bps-2k but becuase someone MIGHT live next door to me I can advertise "Up to 300k Per Second!!!*" The more pigeons you have the more expensive it is but the more packets they carry the more chance one of them will faint and you'll get packet loss...

    *Depending on how close you are to the Central Office of PigeonBand Inc.


  • Why not attach the cable to a swivel on the back of a pneumatic canister, put it in the pipe, and pressure behind it? Unless the pipe has lost too much integrity, you could use the old tech to install the new tech - which might be poetic in its way.
  • Electric companies are doing stuff like this too. They apparently have fiber inside or attached underneath miles of ground cable on high tension power lines. At least here in NC, they initially used the fiber to build a comm network to monitor and control remote substations. But teh fiber allows gives them an infrasructure to provide pretty heavy duty bandwidth over long distances. Smart planning IMHO. They needed the fiber anyway so they overbuilt the network knowing full well they could sell the excess bandwidth later.

    Course I'm not sure if it has paid off for CP&L at least. They bought some local internet companies (like Interpath) but its been a strange story after that.


  • That's what williams communications did (initally, before being bought the first time)... Well they used their old oil pipe lines, but same effect.
  • pneumatic in a sense, someone who gets their access thru them could say their internet really sucks? or would that be blows . . .

    Probably it does both.

    I dont know how the details of the real system, but if you have a pump pumping air out of the pipe at the destination you woud get a force on the post equal to the difference between the effetive vakum and normal astmostferic pressure. So you will have a limmit to your max effect.

    If you have a pump behind the post you will get a force equal the difference between astmostferic pressure and the pressure of the pump.

    For best effect use a pump both in front of and behind (suck and blow).

    In addisjon you must off course factor inn that the air also need to move in the pipe in front off and behind the post.

  • I'd prefer an uninterruptible coffee supply. Tubes would be the perfect solution.

  • There are short-distance tube systems for drive-thru lanes at banks, drug stores, etc. I know some of the engineers designing these things, and they tell me they tried to design a system for fast food. Trouble is, it's extremely difficult to route the tube so the capsule will stay same side up for the whole trip, so drinks get spilled. (In most bank drive-thrus, the capsule goes up, turns 90 degrees, goes out, turns another 90, and arrives upside down.) When they got a working prototype, it looked more like a Lionel train set than anything. 8-) Forget about pizza -- quite aside from spillage, the bigger the tube, the harder it is to make the bends.
  • Very interesting. In the article, it said this guy in NYC has a patent on the process of converting pneumatic tubes to fiber-optic. The Italian plan would seem to be prior art.
  • "Obvious" depends on what court you get the matter in front of. If you have documentary evidence that someone else thought of it first, it's a slamdunk.
  • by JediTrainer ( 314273 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @09:29AM (#240863)
    Don't you think that he should have the right to use this if he wants, considering he discovered it?

    Well that depends. Suppose I visit your house and I find a long-forgotten baseball card in your basement which turns out to be worth several thousand dollars.

    I'd want to say 'finders keepers', but you'd argue that it's your property, and it was found on your property. The fact that you forgot that you had it has no impact on who rightfully owns this.

    Likewise, your government spent your tax dollars to build that system. It goes through government-owned land. Even if it was built a century ago, it doesn't change the fact that they paid for, and thus it's their right to decide what to do with it.

    In any case, they should let the guy use it, but I don't think it's right to say that they're screwing him because they're not letting him use their stuff for free.
  • Firstly, are those tubes still in good condition?
    Well, when digging up streets in a fscking expensive city like new york, even a few miles of free conduit can save millions of dollars. And considering that these tubes were designed to be used basically like rifle tubes, I'd be willing to wager that they're probably still in pretty good shape, barring a once over with a good pressure hose.
    Secondly, would the tubes have to be converted in any way at all?
    Other than the forementioned spring cleaning, probably not. All these guys are looking for is a cheap place to lay underground cable, similar to how in the US most early transcontinential telephone and telegraph lines followed the railroad tracks - the right of way was already established, the investment on their end is pretty much just laying the cable.
    Thirdly, are the tubes still readily accessible?
    That's why this is just a theory. Right now the guys doing the grunt work to see if it's cheap enough to be feasable. If it isn't, then he's out a few weeks of probably fascinating history research. If it is feasable, he'll probably become a millionaire when everything is said and done.

    Dilligence is being done here. Abandoned infrastructure is commonplace in any installation, and if you can reuse it, you're saving resources and time that could be better spent elsewhere.

  • by CrazyJim0 ( 324487 ) on Monday May 07, 2001 @07:17AM (#240868)
    Stuffing em full of wires is useless, lets use em to deliver junk people buy online. Hold on, I'm going to upload you a donut.
  • Firstly, are those tubes still in good condition? They've been unused for decades--they might be full of rainwater, sewage, etc.

    Secondly, would the tubes have to be converted in any way at all? Remember, the tubes are dead tech now. They weren't designed for cable, as that was still decades away.

    Thirdly, are the tubes still readily accessible? Right now, I'm thinking of the old subway tunnels in the District of Columbia and New York City. Some of them are still down there, but the entrances/exits have long been sealed.

    Cool idea, but due diligence needs to be done.
  • they shoudl jsut run them on the subway lines. i have seen those tubes and they are pretty small. im not sure how much fiber you could pack into them, and it would only be around the downtown core which probably already has fiber. still nice recycling technique.
  • Okay, So, I seem to get the impression from the article that this guy who spent all this time researching and essentially discovering this long lost tube system is going to get screwed out of its use. The director of Information Technology for the city was quoted as saying that this guy would have the option to bid on the use of this system along with everyone else! Don't you think that he should have the right to use this if he wants, considering he discovered it?

"I shall expect a chemical cure for psychopathic behavior by 10 A.M. tomorrow, or I'll have your guts for spaghetti." -- a comic panel by Cotham