What the inside of a pneumatic transport system looks like


While most of us are familiar with pneumatic transport systems by their use at drive-up bank windows, these systems are also commonly found in hospitals ferrying samples around. When [Aidan] was in the hospital, he asked how this series of tubes routed samples from many different floors to the lab and back again. Well, give him an old tube to play around with and he’ll eventually come up with a way to record the inside of one of these pneumatic tubes, giving some insight into how this system actually works.

When asked, a tech that uses this system on a daily basis described it as a very basic physical Ethernet that sucks and blows through rotary junctions and physical hubs to route packets to different areas of the building. [Aidan] wanted to record a tube’s travels, so he wired up a small HD camera, a bunch of LEDs, and a few batteries. Sending this recording sample container revealed some of how this pneumatic system works; the containers will travel forward and stop before reversing through one of the rotary switches. You can check out the flight of the container in the video below.

Of course there are other glimpses of how stuff travels through the unseen world of getting from point A to point B. Here’s a time lapse camera going on a trip via DHL just for kicks.



  1. ejonesss says:

    can you modify the tube like that?

    i thought that would be bank property.

  2. Scott says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen. Hyperloop.

  3. Joejoedancer says:

    Just as I thought it’s a tube.

  4. gannon says:

    So this is how it would feel to travel through New New York

  5. Myself says:

    I haven’t even watched the video and I’m already awestruck. This is such a simple, commonplace thing, looked at from a totally new angle. Whether it qualifies as a “hack” in the traditional sense or not, it absolutely causes people to think differently about an everyday object, and that alone makes it more attention-worthy than the average bear.

    More like this, Hackaday! More like this, submitters! Make us think.

    (Addendum: Watched the video. Reminds me of an endoscopy, but way less gross. So cool.)

  6. Chris C. says:

    When I was young I was fascinated with these, and remember wondering if they could transport other items. In particular, a cat. It’s about the right size, pliant, and the fur might provide for a good seal. Plus it was fun imagining the chaos that might ensue when the bank teller unexpectedly receives a panicked cat.

    Not that I did it, or ever would, as it wouldn’t be much fun for the cat. But now at least I know what the cat would see. Enjoyed it.

  7. RandyKC says:

    So this is what it’s like to ride the London tube system?
    I pictured it bigger in my mind;-)

    • Andy says:

      Yep pretty much. Except imagine it’s about 38c and really ‘moist’ and you’ve pretty much nailed it. In the winter it’s a welcome friend, in the summer it is your worst enemy.

  8. jcwren says:

    Anyone recognize the make/model of the camera?

  9. Ian M. says:

    Well done, Aidan. Which “small HD camera” did you use?

    Thanks, Ian

    • Kazoni says:

      From the article’s comments:

      August 9, 2013 at 6:27 pm
      It’s a Replay XD.

      The video quality is OK, but I prefer the GoPro. GP was no good for this though because the offset design prevented the lens from being centred on the rotational axis.

    • adnbr says:

      Thanks Ian. It’s a Replay XD camera – I won’t put a link in the comment this time because it’s being moderated.

  10. steven says:

    Ok, who’s willing to post the footage of their capsule endoscopy?


  11. static says:

    This will be what you see out the window as you travel in a “gravity train”, assuming it would have windows

  12. AndroidCat says:

    Some department stores used to use these instead of cash registers. The customer’s cash and bill would be tubed to a central office, and the change would come back.

    I’ve ever only seen one system in operation in an old store on the western tip of Montreal island, and that was over 35 years ago.

    • Whatnot says:

      Plenty of banks still use it, it’s a clever security setup since you can not only be far away from the money but potential robbers don’t know where the tube goes to exactly.
      But of course people do visit banks very rarely these days with the ATM’s and electronic payments and all, so many are not familiar I expect.

    • anonymous_coward says:

      Home Depot stores in the US use them.

    • Jonathan Wilson says:

      Lots of larger stores (supermarkets, department stores, some others) around here use systems like this to move money from the individual checkout stations to a central point (either some sort of lock-box/safe somewhere near the customer service desk or in some cases the tubes disappear into the back presumably into some sort of cash office)

  13. Splashy says:

    Am I the only person a little concerned about what appeared to be dried blood spatter on the tube walls near the end of the video? That might explain the reasoning behind my hospital switching from a series of tubes to inter-floor couriers.
    How often are the tubes sanitized?

  14. Anonymous says:

    So this is how the Internet works… Fascinating.

  15. Anon says:

    are we going to see a longer video eventually? one with the “switch hubs”

    • Hirudinea says:

      Yea, and the Doctor Who theme in the background.

    • Yarr says:

      To me, it appeared that the capsule ended at a different location than its original departure. It didn’t just go from point A, to a center point, back to A.

      From this I surmised that when the capsule appears to come to rest mid-tube, it’s actually being mechanically routed by being in the center of what amounts to a pipe mounted on an axis, let’s call it the “routing” pipe. The routing pipe turns to the correct exit point, then the capsule continues not forward in the pipe, but back out of the routing pipe, into whatever exit point was selected.

      I don’t know if I’m correct, but I’m curious to hear from any engineers who have actually worked on a system like this.

  16. Ray Johnson says:

    Well, that was about as interesting as watching grass grow…

  17. DBarak says:

    That looks EXACTLY like the video from my last colonoscopy.

  18. efter the fyhn. get 'im kijer. everynew'x wints awesre. says:

    a real blow job.
    duhhhh. i’m an ass.

    • NOT the NSA says:

      No, they did say “sucks and blows” in the description.

      The hospital where my Dad worked when I was a kid had a system like this. There were stories of tube jams occurring which could clog the pneumatics. In my later years I thought of this when watching the film “Brazil”…

  19. Sven says:

    I recently saw a system much like this at a store, except it used rectangular pipes and delivered cigarette packets to the checkout counters. They did that because cigarette theft is getting ridiculously common.

    • Whatnot says:

      Interesting, you’d think a squarish shape would clog, but I guess if it’s not making corners it’s workable, and maybe if the inside is a material that is of the right substance to reduce friction.

      • Hyratel says:

        it has to be the right kind of corners. you can’t make complex corners and you can’t ‘twist’ – but take a bit of poster paper and a corkboard and a few pencils, you’ll see how you can make a corner take a rectangle while keeping a seal

  20. Johan G says:

    There was a longer article on these systems in a Swedish computer journal (by Jörgen Städje, the one who wrote about exploding CD-ROMs). Most of the article was about the system used in the Swedish government offices.

    He mentioned an anecdote where a McDonald’s apple pie was sent a Friday afternoon and unintentionally was stuck at the switch hub till it was delivered the following Monday in a somewhat less appetizing condition. :-P

    Link to article (Google translated): http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=sv&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=sv&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.idg.se%2F2.1085%2F1.138122

  21. rrbrowne says:

    —Reminds me of Stargate…

  22. deano says:

    Reminds me of Portal 2!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,670 other followers