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Pneumatic Tube Communication In Hospitals 350

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 More_Cowbell ( 957742 ) * on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:40PM (#30717280) Journal
    I guess the only question is... why don't you take a look at TFA and get all your questions answered, instead of rushing here to try for a FP?
  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @05:59PM (#30717484) Homepage
    New York City used to have pneumatic mail tubes. (They shut them down when it got to the point that adding mail trucks started to be cheaper than adding tubing. Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck, magnetic tapes or paper.)

    Heck, the first New York City subway was pneumatic. (It was also very short, and short-lived.)

  • Re:Futurama (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:05PM (#30717540)

    It could have happened...

  • by Bender_ ( 179208 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:06PM (#30717548) Journal

    Both Berlin and Paris had a networks with a total length of more than 400km.

    obvious link []

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:07PM (#30717564)

    Nearly all the department stores did that back in the 1950's/1960's . There were no electronic cash registers, and checkout staff weren't allowed to handle money. So the customer would place their payment along with a receipt signed by the checkout clerk into a capsule. This would be sent upstairs to be processed by an accountant who would send the change back down to the checkout clerk. Just like in the movie "Brazil".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:17PM (#30717642)

    But with the new PIZZA MAKER 3000, you will be downloading your own pizzas in the blink of an eye!

    Our new patented system will transmit the energy across your regular phone line, no need for a special line.
    And thanks to the lovely people at CERN, a portable blackhole generator is then used to convert this energy in to mass ready to be assembled in to whatever pizza you can think of, from pineapple and pepperoni to plain old classical cheese.

    Now yours for only $24,999.

  • by I_am_Jack ( 1116205 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:56PM (#30717948)
    Actually, the blower from a vacuum cleaner at a car wash would be more than enough to power a 100mm dia. (4" in the US, which is a standard tube size here for pneumatic tube systems) point-to-point line, and you could move the carrier several hundred meters with a payload up up to a half kilo. You could use ABS sewage line. The problem is how you would create bends and offsets. The smallest radius for a standard size carrier in a 100mm dia. tube is 60cm. Sealing the system is really not much of an issue. And if you use a piece of 70mm pipe, you'd need to wrap the outside with the fuzzy velcro strips at equadistant points to make your seal in order to allow the pressure/vacuum to propel the carrier. I used to sell the big systems to hospitals for a living.
  • by donatzsky ( 91033 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @06:56PM (#30717950) Homepage

    Did you actually RTFA? Sure, they send documents (might as well when they have the system), but what they're raving about in TFA is that they can send tissue samples and other bits and pieces of their patients.

  • Re:Ding Ding (Score:5, Informative)

    by Vegeta99 ( 219501 ) < minus city> on Sunday January 10, 2010 @07:00PM (#30717986)

    When I was in high school, I quite stereotypically worked at McDonald's. To this day, whenever I eat there, I can tell you EXACTLY what is happening in the kitchen. Someone really paid attention to make sure no function requiring human attention in that kitchen had the same sound.

    Sometimes, if some jerkoff called off and you were stuck back in the kitchen alone, it was MADDENING. You absolutely are more aware of a loud, high pitched beep than a voice telling you to do something

  • by neapolitan ( 1100101 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @07:54PM (#30718462)

    I thought the headline of the article was actually a joke; these systems are found in almost all major hospitals. There are companies that will install them: []

    this is an established industry, and nothing new... Each hospital in the conglomerate that I work in uses a pneumatic tube system.

    Weird that somebody picked up this Stanford "press release" and found it suitable for Slashdot...

  • by itsthebin ( 725864 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @08:03PM (#30718522) Homepage
    Pneumatic Computation was use in early control rooms , with fully analog computation. Adders , Sumers , Square Root Extractors , PID controllers , switches.
    3 - 15 psi to represent 0 - 100 %

    when I did my Industrial Instrumentation Apprenticeship , pneumatics was a large part , and in some explosive enviroments it is still a preferred way to go.
  • So the point of this article is that physical tasks, like plumbing or carrying infected blood, can't be done electronically ?!?!

    RTFA, dude. By using adding high-tech sensors and computer controlled routing to the pneumatic tubing system, they are shipping things around way faster than people could carry them ... things that we could NOT ship in the 1980s.

    Being able to have a straight tube delivering bags of blood between OR and blood bank is an amazing time saver for staff.

  • by mr_matticus ( 928346 ) on Sunday January 10, 2010 @08:58PM (#30718830)

    Why not? Possibly because of the following:

    1) The energy required to transport "packets" of hot water is many, many times greater than the losses through the hot water pipes.

    2) The cost of building such a system would exceed any logical benefit; adding a large-diameter pipe system would occupy considerable space and would require some (presumably mechanized) system for sorting, draining, and filling the containers (as well as isolating waste water containers from the others) in a space-consuming "sorting room".

    3) Each shower, sink, and drain in the building would require a large accumulation tank, since it would take multiple "packets" to flush a toilet, and storing enough hot water for even a brief shower would require many, many trips through the system. Any drain reservoir that filled faster than the system could empty it would back up into the sink/toilet/bathtub. The largest conceivable container to fit into a typical building could hold about a gallon of water and would be twice the size of the system used at banks--it certainly wouldn't fit inside a standard wall and would require a special breakout conduit.

    4) For home use, building a sufficiently complex system would simply be impossible--all water flow would stop while your "packets" were en route to other destinations. There is no conceivable way to build bypass structures and waiting areas sufficient to allow multiple taps to work simultaneously at an acceptable refill rate.

    5) Given the necessary locations for most of the accumulation tanks, you would need active pumps to run most faucets--the system would not function on water pressure alone as it does now. This adds cost, complexity, and new failure modes. Power outage? There goes the toilets.

    The whole idea is a Rube. If the relatively small losses in the hot water pipes concern you, build a home with insulated hot water pipes. Add a central vac if you like. The end result will be cheaper, more efficient, and 99% less insane.

  • by Darth_brooks ( 180756 ) <clipper377&gmail,com> on Sunday January 10, 2010 @11:01PM (#30719414) Homepage

    Nah, it was because the propulsion system blew.

  • by Mr. Freeman ( 933986 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @12:26AM (#30719850)
    I've also seen this in every home depot I've ever been in. Although, I'm not sure if they're used anymore. When I was little I used to see them used and get jammed on a regular basis so I suspect they may have stopped using them but don't want to spend the money to remove them.
  • by cyn1c77 ( 928549 ) on Monday January 11, 2010 @01:54AM (#30720244)

    "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."

    This article might be interesting if you are, say, 15. But they were (and still are) used in banks, the post office, supermarkets and anywhere else people need to transport small packages and money in a complex. Look around next time you are out in the world and you will likely see a few of these tubes.

    How about an article on another archaic, 19th-century piece of technology that works better than any modern Silicon Valley wizardry: the internal combustion engine. I look forward to the one about the bicycle too!

The IQ of the group is the lowest IQ of a member of the group divided by the number of people in the group.