As a brand new Air force recruit doing basic training in 1966 at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, I was detailed to Wilford Hall Hospital for a days work in the message center located in the basement of the building. The job was to take messages that came in tubes (similar to the tubes used in banks at the drive up counter today) and put them from one tube pneumatic tube into another for and ……..Pusssshhhhh, and off to their delivery destination in puff of air. While a rather complex system at the time it seemed to be ingenious that the message would get to proper person almost instantaneously by floating through a tube to its destination. Pneumatic capsule transportation (also known as pneumatic tube transport) are systems that propel cylindrical containers through networks of tubes by compressed air or partial vacuum. Pneumatic capsules are generally used for transporting solid objects and gained acceptance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for offices that needed to transport small, urgent packages (such as mail, paperwork, or money) over relatively short distances (within a building, or at most, within a city). Some installations grew to great complexity and, in some settings, such as hospitals, they remain widespread and have been further extended and developed in recent decades. These systems can be quite complex as in a large hospital or huge mailroom (Pictured left) or simpler systems use by bank drive-up systems (pictured right).
These systems were first offered in 1834 as a novelty and was just one of the inventions of William Murdoch, an 18th and 19th century Scottish engineer. The idea really did not go to very far until Josiah Latimer Clark, an English electrical engineer involved in the telegraph business, installed a 220-yard pneumatic system in 1853 between the London Stock Exchange in Threadneedle Street, London, and the offices of the Electric Telegraph Company in Lothbury. As a result, Clark was issued an 1854 patent “for conveying letters or parcels between places by the pressure of air and vacuum.” Later, in 1863, Clark was involved in the construction of a tube by the London Dispatch Company between the London North-West District post office and Euston station, London consisting of small cars ran through a tube carrying mail and important documents, even telegrams. As time went on, a small number of pneumatic transportation systems were also built for larger cargo, to compete with more standard train and subway systems. While pneumatic capsules are commonly used for small parcels and documents, including as cash carriers at banks or supermarkets, records transport in hospitals, they were originally proposed in the 19th century as a method for the transportation of heavy freight and even envisioned to transport people in these massive tubes. In 1867, at the American Institute Fair in New York, Alfred Ely Beach demonstrated a 32.6 m long, 1.8 m diameter pipe that was capable of moving 12 passengers plus a conductor (Right). In 1869, the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company of New York secretly constructed a 95 m long, 2.7 m diameter pneumatic subway line under Broadway, to demonstrate the possibilities of the new transport mode. The line only operated for a few months, closing after Beach was unsuccessful in getting permission to extend it – Boss Tweed, a Corrupt influential politician, did not want it to go ahead as he was intending to personally invest into competing schemes for an elevated rail line. Thus, these people moving strategies never really gained traction and were left for Sci-fi writers and dreamers that have long envisioned ways to travel at high speeds through low-pressure tubes.
Fast Forward to 2017
Initially called the “Vactrain”, traveling at high speeds through low pressure tubes was first invented by Robert Goddard as a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1904. Goddard subsequently refined the idea in a 1906 short story called “The High-Speed Bet” which was summarized and published in a Scientific American editorial in 1909 called “The Limit of Rapid Transit”. Esther, Goddard’s wife, was granted a US patent for the vactrain in 1950, five years after his death. In 1972, Robert Salter of the RAND Corp. conceived a well engineered supersonic underground railway called the Vactrain, but due to the enormous construction costs (estimated as high as US$1 trillion, in 1972) Salter’s excellent proposal was never built. His idea was simply waiting for the right combination of talent, technology, and business case to become a reality.
Today’s growing global economy requires faster, cheaper, safer and more efficient transportation modes. Roads, airports, and ports are congested and there has not been a new form of transportation in 100 years. Why not add a new ultra-fast, on-demand, direct, emission-free, energy efficient, quiet with a smaller footprint than other high-speed transport modes, proponents say “its about time!” Goddard’s concept of Vactrain has now been renamed Hyperloop and is now proposed as a new worldwide mode of transportation moving freight and people quickly, safely, on-demand and direct from origin to destination. The basic concept of the hyperloop is a pair of elevated steel tubes through which capsules carrying 28 passengers glide along at up to 760 mph on extraordinarily thin cushions of air. Capsules would be accelerated via linear motors, the same technology used in maglev trains. Linear motors are just like regular electric motors that are cut open and laid flat; electromagnets embedded in the track create waves of magnetic fields that propel capsules down the tube. To speed things further, air would be pumped from hyperloop tubes down to 100 pascals, or one-thousandth of the air pressure at sea level, reducing wind resistance. The remaining air would be compressed and fed through skis that run the length of the undercarriage to levitate the train. Hyperloop systems will be built on columns or tunneled below ground to avoid dangerous grade crossings and wildlife. It’s fully a autonomous and enclosed sytem which will eliminating pilot error and weather hazards as well as safe and clean, with no direct carbon emissions.
There are numerous opportunities both in and outside the U.S. Devloop has constructed a full-system test development track in the Nevada desert, combining the pod, tube, vacuum, levitation, propulsion, and braking. In May 2017, they successfully completed the first full system, self-powered Hyperloop test, which was the first time that anyone had integrated all of the components of a Hyperloop in a complete system at scale. Tests are now being conducted to validate the technology with the goal of having the first three systems in service by 2021. There are 10 finalists for the first system to be built….
- Cheyenne – Denver – Pueblo (360 miles)
- Chicago – Columbus – Pittsburgh (488 miles)
- Miami – Orlando (257 miles)
- Dallas – Houston (640 miles)
- Edinburgh – London (414 miles)
- Glasgow – Liverpool (339 miles)
- Mexico City – Guadalajara (330 miles)
- Bengaluru – Chennai (208 miles)
- Mumbai – Chennai (685 miles)
- Toronto – Montreal (400 miles)
Hearing and Balance Effects of These Systems
Although Hyperloop will be fast, according to the companies building these the systems, they accelerate with the same tolerable G forces as that of taking off in a Boeing 747. The manufacturers of these systems also indicate that you will be accelerating and decelerating gradually and, depending on the route, banking of the tubes is into the designs to eliminate G forces even more. It will be as smooth as riding an elevator, and there’s no turbulence. Is it simply “……..Pusssshhhhh, and off to their delivery destination in puff of air”, or are their more human effects of this technology than meets the eye! That is our topic for Hearing International Next week.
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DeChant, T. (2013). The promise and perils of Hyperloop and other high speed trains. Nova Next. Retrieved September 26, 2017
Etherington, D. (2017). Hyperloop One reveals 10 strongest potential Hyperloop routes in the world. TC.com Retrieved September 26, 2017
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Hyperloopone (2017). The backstory. www.hyperloopone.com Retrieved September 26, 2017.