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Totally tubular


My first memory of pneumatic tubes is from the TV cartoon, The Jetsons, when Elroy and George would get whisked off, respectively, to school and work through a network of pipes that seemed to span the solar system, if not the universe. These systems, in which you can put an item into a cylinder and then send it along the way, were once a staple in factories and skyscrapers, and I remember using them when I worked as a clerk at the New York Times in 1990. They were considered futuristic technology, featured in George Orwell's 1984 and Jules Verne novels. The Internet seemed to make them obsolete, but there is at least one very important exception: hospitals.

There's a fascinating story in today's issue of Inside Stanford Medicine about how there are four miles of tubes at the Stanford University Medical Center ("Gone with the wind: Tubes are whisking samples across hospital"). It turns out that there is still a need to be able to quickly transport medications, blood samples and other tissue specimens, and that these networks are faster and less costly than using human messengers. Apparently hospitals nationwide rely on this technology. Perhaps it will become obsolete when we finally figure out how to duplicate the transporter system from Star Trek. "Beam up the blood sample, Doc!"


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