June 30, 2017 by Amanda Visconti

Making a pneumatic tube messaging system

Progression of stuff leading to my new project:

I had a shower thought about how pneumatic tube messaging systems work (vacuums? but how exactly, when they’re not sealed because messages go in and out? what are the differences between Hyperloop and a tube system?).

I’m now co-directing the Scholars’ Lab (the DH center at the University of Virginia’s Library).

We have an awesome Makerspace, staffed by experts in a variety of digital and crafting methods.

I googled “DIY pneumatic tube” and found a number of tutorials and videos showing how a small-scale system could be built using a shopvac.

We have a shopvac!

Everyone on our staff has 20% of their time devoted to personal research, learning, and development.

My first R&D project will be building a pneumatic tube messaging system!

Today, I started working through comparisons of the various tutorials to figure out what supplies I need to order. I have not made much stuff in my life? (I did a bit of Lilypad Arduino work with Kari Kraus and Beth Bonsignore—sewing conductive thread and LEDs that were controlled with a bit of Processing code—and that was awesome.) I’m going to blog from the beginning, before I know anything about how to do this (much less how to do this well.) I don’t even know basic information like what length of tubing our shopvac can support! I’ll blog as I learn.

Besides getting me comfortable with building and using our Makerspace, the tube is part of a larger idea—rebuilding a set of historical communication devices as a means of personally understanding how significant various small innovations to a given tool were. I’m thinking a telegraph, light signals, audio signals (drums?), a drone carrier pigeon. A fax machine? (maybe hacking one, not building one.) Radio? (Maybe learning HAM radio, and also building a radio?) Any other ideas?

Public domain photo, work of an unknown employee of the United States Farm Security Administration or Office of War Information domestic photographic units.