Foodtubes

From Ars technica: Can we transport food like Internet data? Foodtubes says yes

Much of the world's food supply is transported via an inefficient, polluting, and dangerous system of highways and trucks. The overwhelming share of the fuel used to move food powers cumbersome vehicles, only eight percent is really needed to transport the cargoes themselves to supermarkets, according to one estimate.

So what's the alternative? Move the whole system underground and set up a "transport industry Internet," says the United Kingdom based Foodtubes Project, a consortium of academics, project planners, and engineers. Siphon veggies, corn flakes, cans of baked beans about in high-speed capsules (one by two meters) traveling through dedicated pipelines lodged below our cities. And why not? That's the way we transport water, oil, gas, and sewage, isn't it?

"All all conditions, day or night, delivery can be guaranteed," a Foodtubes PowerPoint presentation promises. "Whatever the weather, FOODTUBE will deliver the goods!"


I don't know why this is limited to foods, as opposed to any material goods. Of course it is reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward (written in 1887):


"I suppose so," said Edith, "but of course we have never known any other way. But, Mr. West, you must not fail to ask father to take you to the central warehouse some day, where they receive the orders from the different sample houses all over the city and parcel out and send the goods to their destinations. He took me there not long ago, and it was a wonderful sight. The system is certainly perfect; for example, over yonder in that sort of cage is the dispatching clerk. The orders, as they are taken by the different departments in the store, are sent by transmitters to him. His assistants sort them and enclose each class in a carrier-box by itself.

The dispatching clerk has a dozen pneumatic transmitters before him answering to the general classes of goods, each communicating with the corresponding department at the warehouse. He drops the box of orders into the tube it calls for, and in a few moments later it drops on the proper desk in the warehouse, together with all the orders of the same sort from the other sample stores. The orders are read over, recorded, and sent to be filled, like lightning. The filling I thought the most interesting part. Bales of cloth are placed on spindles and turned by machinery, and the cutter, who also has a machine, works right through one bale after another till exhausted, when another man takes his place; and it is the same with those who fill the orders in any other staple. The packages are then delivered by larger tubes to the city districts, and thence distributed to the houses. You may understand how quickly it is all done when I tell you that my order will probably be at home sooner than I could have carried it from here." Edward Bellamy (1887) Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (chapter 10, p.106)


I wrote a bit about Automated Freight Systems in
Published as: Zou, Xi and David Levinson (2005) Financing and Deploying Automated Freight Systems in The Future of Automated Freight Transport: Concepts, Design and Implementation. (ed. Rob Konings, Peter Nijkamp, Hugo Peimus) Edward Elgar pp. 227-242.

For the record, I am not a locovore.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

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Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on December 6, 2010 8:15 AM.

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