Here's an idea I had a while ago about a way to change the way that materials are delivered to and from a home. It applies to other areas as well, but for the purposes of this blog, I'll focus on uses related to homes.
There are several kinds of materials that regularly enter and leave a home. Here's a list of the main ones, together with how they are transported:
- garbage; removed by the garbage trucks
- sewage; removed by the underground drains
- water; enters and leaves via water pipes
- mail; enters and leaves via the postal service
- food; picked up from the local store
- gas; delivered via gas pipes
Notice that each kind of material has a different infrastructure associated with its transport. It made me wonder if it would be possible to use a single, unified approach for transporting all of these different kinds of things.
Here is the solution I came up with.
The main idea is to packetize transport of materials. It's analogous to the revolution that's occurring in network communications, whereby all kinds of data can be broken into packets and transported by a single transport protocol, namely IP (Internet Protocol). For example, voice, data, video are now all transported across a single network as a collection of packets.
I envisage a similar kind of network for the transport of material goods, which I call The Tube. The Tube is a network of pipes that connect and route through every house and every store. A pipe is 6-9 inches in diameter, transparent, and is evacuated so that things that pass through it do not encounter air resistance.
Traveling through the pipes are small cylindrical canisters around 12-24 inches long, which can contain any kind of material. Each canister knows where it came from, where it is going to, and what it contains. Canisters are propeled through a pipe using linear induction, which uses electromagnetism generated by coils around the pipes to move the canisters at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.
Since canisters can contain any kind of material, they can be used to transport waste, water, post, food, garbage, and other kinds of thing between any two points.
For example, here's how a Tube-based water system would work. Each house would have a small water tank. When the water level gets low, the house issues a request to the water supplier for some canisters of water. A few seconds later, the water supplier fills some canisters with water, enters them into a pipe and directs them to your home. Minutes later, the canisters arrive at your home and are automatically emptied into your water tank.
Similarly, when your home waste tank starts to fill, it places canisters containing the waste into a pipe and directs them to the sewage farm.
The most important concept of The Tube is that material transfer is packetized. Unlike, say, water pipes and sewage drains where a steady stream of a single material occurs, a typical pipe might contain thousands of canisters carrying a variety of different payloads. Transfering 20 gallons of water might take 5 canisters, and transfering a week of groceries might require 4 canisters. In addition, since canisters are routed individually, it's entirely possible that the 4 canisters carrying your groceries from the store to your home travel different routes and arrive a few minutes apart.
Each house contains an intelligent router which knows what to do with canisters when they enter the house. Water canisters are dumped into your water tank, mail canisters go into a mail basket, groceries are routed to your kitchen, etc. Similarly, your septic tank knows how to fill canisters with waste material and your trash cans know how to fill canisters with garbage.
There are several advantages to a Tube-based system:
1. It replaces the current postal service, sewage drainage system, water pipes, water towers, garbage pickup, and grocery shopping with a single, simple, easy-to-service system.
2. It is real-time. You can go online, order groceries, and have them delivered directly from the warehouse via a tube within minutes. No need to drive your car to a store, park your car, find the goods, wait in the checkout line, and drive home.
3. It is simpler to install. Right now, when you build a house, it has to be connected up to a ton of different delivery systems, such as sewage, gas, and water networks. With the Tube system, you connect your house to a pipe and you're done. Everything enters and leaves via a single point.
4. It cuts out the middle-man. You don't need to have stores anymore, since goods can be delivered directly from the producer to the consumer. Similarly, you don't need a postal service anymore, since mail can be delivered directly from the sender to the receiver.
The Internet protocol (IP) shows that a variety of different content can be transported using a single, packet-based scheme. By adopting the same philosophy, I think a single Tube network can be used for transporting most kinds of material goods.