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Pneumatic Tube Communication In Hospitals 350

Posted by kdawson
from the foot-long-packets dept.
blee37 sends along a writeup from the School of Medicine at Stanford University on their pneumatic tube delivery system, used for sending atoms not bits. Such systems are in use in hospitals nationwide; the 19th-century technology is enhancd by recent refinements in pneumatic braking. "Every day, 7,000 times a day, Stanford Hospital staff turn to pneumatic tubes, cutting-edge technology in the 19th century, for a transport network that the Internet and all the latest Silicon Valley wizardry can't match: A tubular system to transport a lab sample across the medical center in the blink of an eye."
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Pneumatic Tube Communication In Hospitals

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  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:32PM (#30717206)

    So the point of this article is that physical tasks, like plumbing or carrying infected blood, can't be done electronically ?!?!

  • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:42PM (#30717292) Journal
    The ultra-modern pharmacy in the local town also uses pneumatic delivery for prescription drugs. You present your prescription at the counter, and the attendant checks it, then keys in the appropriate codes on the terminal. The pills/potion/whatever arrives via pneumatic tube while the instructions & labels are being printed. This is faster then the previous method where the same attendant would have to walk off and fetch the prescription materials.

    Some banks also use pneumatic conveyance to send currency between the counters and the vault.
  • by dthirteen (307585) * on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:47PM (#30717358) Homepage

    I think most if not all hospitals have this tech.

    The station(s) go offline, and service personel come and fix it... parts of the network going offline is not an unusual event. Unlike the 19th century tech, these packet (plastic canister) routed pneumatic tube systems lack humans at the core of packet routing.

    From a volunteer's point of view at a non-Stanford hospital, the IT integration was less than stellar. Maybe Stanford has done some work in that area, or maybe this is just astroturfing by a pneumatic tube company.

  • by mister_playboy (1474163) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:51PM (#30717394)

    You must be new here.

  • Fluff piece, sorta (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:16PM (#30717632)

    I found the article mildly interesting but the lack of details disappointing. They only mention things like switching points and waiting areas in passing. It would've been a great article if they'd talked about the specific tech - I know it's old tech, but most of us have had little to no exposure to it (I've been to banks that use it at their drive-through windows... that's about it). For example: there are switches; is there any sort of prioritization protocol, or are the switches simply for collision prevention?

  • by value_added (719364) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:21PM (#30717668)

    Why is this news? Seriously, old technology lives on if it's useful. Even sometimes if it's not.

    I think the newsworthiness of this is that it offers evidence of a technological "plus ca change ..." Put another way, instead of looking like Star Trek or a Spielberg movie, the future will more likely resemble what we see in Brazil [wikipedia.org].

  • by Discordantus (654486) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:54PM (#30717924)
    The point of this article is that pneumatic tube networks are frelling cool, and they're old tech. To many persons of geeky persuasion (including me), this type of thing is fascinating.
  • by Discordantus (654486) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:57PM (#30717970)

    (and no couriers available to fall back on)

    Luckily, they have plenty of *general purpose* organic units to fall back on, which, while less efficient than the tube network, can quickly transport the physical objects. Just because no one has "courier" in their job description, doesn't mean there are no available couriers.

  •     You may have thought you were making a joke, but that's the #1 reason that we do not have replicators yet. Sure, we *could* have the technology by now. There can't ever be any money in it. Make a device that can scan an object, and make a molecular clone of it? What would it's first task be? Make another one.

        Anything, absolutely anything, you can get your hands on, you could reproduce at any other station. All you would need is raw material, which would simply be something with atoms. (i.e., dirt into another tangible object)

        As long as we live in a capitalist world (ya, even the communists are capitalists these days), and money changes hands for goods, we will never have such a device.

        Pizzas are the fun example. Imagine if you could reproduce a CPU, DVD (molecularity, rather than data image), Rolex, Maserati, SR-71 Blackbird, or ... well, you get the idea. Not only would capitalism fall, but any individual net worth would be insignificant, as we could all have anything we wanted, any time we wanted. Beyond that, reproducing organic objects would be trivial. Need a heart transplant? No problem, we'll reproduce yours from the last scan where it was healthy.

        Excuse me, I feel like seeing how high *MY* SR-71 goes. I just replicated it, and made a few mods. :) The last few failed, so I just recycled them in the raw materials pit.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @08:05PM (#30718536) Homepage
    The bandwidth sucks? Well lets have a face-off. You choose the network hardware of whatever type you want, be it gigabit ethernet, fiber or whatever, and I'll send several pneumatic canisters stuffed to the brim with 32 gigabyte MicroSD cards. We'll see who can transfer the most data from one side of the hospital to the other in five minutes.

    "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway." - Andrew Tanenbaum
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 10, 2010 @08:19PM (#30718630)

    WTF???? That makes no sense at all

  • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @10:14PM (#30719196)

    As long as we live in a capitalist world (ya, even the communists are capitalists these days), and money changes hands for goods, we will never have such a device.

    Capitalism is not just about exchanging goods. It's also about exchange of services. The relative value of goods and services are already reversed from what they used to be. Replicator technology will just push that to an extreme. Hell, open-source software is sort of like that, where you don't pay for the software, but for related services.

    Want to:

    * Hire a live band for your daughter's wedding?
    * Commission a painting?
    * Get a professional's advice (on just about anything)?
    * Research new technology?
    * Write new software?
    * Read an author's new book?
    * Go watch a play at the theater?
    * Go to Disneyland?

    Extremely low-cost goods will still allow capitalism to work just fine. Frankly, I think it's rather inevitable anyhow, barring any natural or self-inflicted apocalypse.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @10:45PM (#30719358)

    The bandwidth is great. You can send a 1TB hard drive down the tube.

    It's the latency that sucks.

    Don't try to play a first person shooter, or stream a video through the tube.

  • by compro01 (777531) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:01AM (#30719740)

    The "not an IT guy" is the point. He was the chairman of the senate committee on commerce, science and transportation. He should have an appropriate grasp of the subjects he is in charge of, which he does not as you can tell from the rest of the speech.

  • by EdIII (1114411) * on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:10AM (#30719776)

    Who cares about the rest of the speech? I am only talking about the series of tubes comment. It's not the whole speech people make fun of, but just that comment.

    Appropriate grasp? Really? Series of tubes seems to me to be an appropriate grasp for a Senator. Unless you are saying that any Senator appointed to that subcommittee has to be an IT person.

    In fact, I would bet that an IT guy might even explain it that way to a Senator if they had asked.

    Instead of saying, "welll.. he is in a position of authority and you know he should like know all this stuff.." you might want to justify how series of tubes is an inappropriate and/or stupid abstraction of layer 1 communications worthy of ridicule.

    If you disagreed with the rest of his speech, just say you don't like the man's politics. Just don't try making fun of him for something that is really not able to made fun of in the first place.

  • by mr100percent (57156) on Monday January 11, 2010 @01:13AM (#30720058) Homepage Journal

    Nah, why people make fun of him is when he said in a speech condemning Net Neutrality: "I just the other day got, an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially."

    Assuming he meant email, is network congestion so bad that it takes a weekend to send an email? More likely he doesn't know how to use a computer properly

  • by Z00L00K (682162) on Monday January 11, 2010 @02:35AM (#30720416) Homepage

    Actually - it is. Imagine the amount of time and work needed to deliver all those small items like tissue samples, paper documents and X-rays around the hospital by hand.

    Sometimes time is of an issue, and a pneumatic tube is a simple and beautiful solution to a problem.

    Anyway - that delivery system is used in many other places than hospitals too. Like in supermarkets where the tellers can send excess cash to the vault without leaving their station.

    Even heavy industry uses it for transport of samples from the production line to the laboratory. I know that the cement industry uses it, and the sampling is fully automated.

    That technology is far from being obsolete, and sometimes it comes in very handy. Of course - you can't transport everything through it, and sometimes there are problems with the system which will require manual intervention by a plumber.

  • by Jeremi (14640) on Monday January 11, 2010 @02:51AM (#30720478) Homepage

    You may have thought you were making a joke, but that's the #1 reason that we do not have replicators yet. Sure, we *could* have the technology by now. There can't ever be any money in it.

    That's also the #1 reason why we don't have open source software yet. There will never be any money in it, that's why it doesn't exist.

    Anything, absolutely anything, you can get your hands on, you could reproduce at any other station. All you would need is raw material, which would simply be something with atoms. (i.e., dirt into another tangible object)

    Hmm, just like alchemy. I could shovel in a pound of lead, press GO, and end up with a pound of gold. Sounds good!

    One thing you are forgetting is that you'd also need energy to run your replicator device. How much energy you would need would depend on what you wanted it to do, but I suspect it would be prohibitive. As a simple example, look at the amount of energy it takes to turn water into separate hydrogen and oxygen gases.

  • by kmac06 (608921) on Monday January 11, 2010 @04:12PM (#30727766)
    *whoosh*

I tell them to turn to the study of mathematics, for it is only there that they might escape the lusts of the flesh. -- Thomas Mann, "The Magic Mountain"

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