Pneumatic pipes deliver pizza in Steampunk fantasy

Posted by Lydia Leavitt

Who doesn't love fast food? And what's faster and more cool than having food pumped directly to your house via pneumatic tube? 



Because that's exactly what the Foodtubes Project is all about.

The wacky idea was conceived of by a group of academics, engineers, lawyers, transport industry veterans and oddballs who believe London would function so much better if people just got their food from a pneumatic tube. 

And, well, Londoners are known for their tubes.

The Steampunk system is a concept the British researchers reckon could revolutionize food delivery for good, and free up London's roads from congestion, pollution and traffic - not to mention avoiding the Dickensian lurking in shop doorways during the frosty winter months.

Can't picture it? 

Well, according to the Foodtubes team, the system is made up of "computer-guided, lightweight capsules, travelling through dozens of interlinking 150 km circuits," which would serve "farms, producers, processors, packagers, wholesalers, retailers and recycling units."

In other words, if you can get gas pumped to your house via a tube, why wouldn't you want to order gas making baked beans through an alternative tube? 

The ecological reasons behind the concept are sound, with the Foodtube eccentrics explaining that regions served by Foodtubes would "benefit from substantial road, rail & air traffic decongestion, from faster and smaller deliveries and cleaner street-level air."

According to the team's calculations, the Foodtubes would eliminate 1 to 4 billion tons of CO2 a year, based on the fact that in today's low-tech system 92% of the fuel used to transport food and 'supermarket consumer goods' moves the vehicles – while only 8% moves the cargos.

The system would be designed for Dense-Urban, Urban, Rural and Wilderness regions with a typical dense-urban 150 km circuit meant to connect up to approximately 400 terminals at senders' & receivers' premises. Freight transfer depots would transfer cargos to and from traditional lorries, vans, pallets, waste-trucks and trains.

"Diverse specialist capsules will be designed to carry a wide range of cargos from farm produce to ready-for-sale supermarket goods," say the cranks adding, "Pipe-Terminals will be installed at supermarkets, shopping malls and markets, colleges, schools, large offices & institutions and at waste recycling depots." 

Forgot your lunch at home? No worries, just pipe in another pot pie.

As well as the green benefits, there would also be increased delivery speed benefits and – unlike Britain's train system – the tubes would not be slowed down by the weather, or the terrible traffic.

"Like large diameter water, gas and oil pipes, Foodtubes can be buried for long distances, be laid underwater, linked internationally and take shorter routes than roads take to farms, processors, distribution hubs and supermarkets."
 
Pipes are also rather low maintenance and could last for decades without needing any major overhauls. Cargo-capsule charges could be five times less than equivalent road-freight and cost 90% less to transmit; making each circuit a highly profitable enterprise, says the promotional spiel.

Of course, on the flipside, the government would have to undertake a massive public works infrastructure project to build all the tunnels as well as the loading and unloading docks, not to mention having to engineer the computer-controlled switching system, but hey-ho, that could all be in the pipeline.

Also, the folks at Foodtubes reckon the build-out of the project would eventually work out cheaper than the current alternative, noting it would  "likely to cost less than continuously repairing existing, heavily used and congested major roads - damage caused mainly by HGVs of, in Europe, up to 6 axles and 44 tonnes laden weight - and even heavier in the USA."

Where the math all falls a bit flat, however, is in the rather idealistic cost calculation, with the new age romantics positing it would only cost about $500 million to install. 

Then again, how often have academics ever had to deal with building contractors?

And if you think about it, it's not like similar systems don't already exist. Water gets piped into our homes. Cable companies and phone companies spend billions laying down underground networks and fiber.

In Paris, from 1866 until 1984 there was even a subterranean Poste Pneumatique (Pneumatic Post) which moved written telegraph messages from one place to another, inspiring George Orwell's pneumatic post tube in the novel 1984.

Would it really be too much to ask to have a pizza piped directly to our front door? Personally we don't find it an unreasonable demand.