Wednesday, December 15, 2010

'Physical Internet' Contemplated Able Ferry Freight Through a Series of Tubes

I think this is one of those ideas that sound interesting, but are ultimately impractical. The volume of goods that would be needed to make it viable based on the costs is not demanded; especially in rural areas. It may have some potential between suppliers and distribution points, or if the costs could be brought down significantly.

"Hungry? Better turn on your linear induction motor and send a metal capsule through an underground polyethylene tube to retrieve some groceries.

That’s the vision of Foodtubes, a UK program that seeks to reduce carbon emissions by building a pipeline-capsule system to deliver food and freight. A series of tubes could ferry 6-foot-long metal bins among neighborhoods, entire cities or even to different countries, moving goods at 60 mph using linear induction motors and intelligent routing software. Foodtubes says it’s “really fast food,” brought to you by the Internet of Things.

“In the long term, we could see an ostrich slaughtered in Cape Town, and delivered to Edinburgh,” said Noel Hodson, Foodtubes’ CEO, in an interview in EWeek Europe.
It sounds crazy, but Foodtubes points out that other commodities — oil, water, gas and even sewage — have dedicated pipeline networks, and new 3-foot-diameter tubes are installed all the time. Dedicated Foodtube pipelines would require little maintenance and could earn $125 million a year, Hodson said.

Apparently the group initially considered vacuum tubes, like the kind you use at a drive-through bank teller, but realized it would be impractical on a massive scale. Instead, capsules would be accelerated with linear induction motors, which would be controlled by computers.

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