Monday, October 3, 2011

as thuds and thwacks become mere whispers: more sounds of pneumatic technology

Pneumatic tube systems make wonderful sounds: whooshes, rumbles and clattering tumbles. James Drake describes some of the sounds of this "wheezing, gurgling metal" in his piece about the Prague postal system for BusinessWeek:
Back in the dispatch room, meantime, a blinking red light indicates another incoming missive. As the canister approaches, there's a faint bumblebee drone, then a louder, higher-pitched buzz, then a satisfying thwack as the package drops into its padded receptacle. From the bowels of the earth below comes a drawn-out gurgle, not unlike the flushing of a distant toilet.
It seems however that pneumatic systems can be a little too noisy. Ever since the 1980s, engineers have tried to find ways to stop containers arriving in pathology labs with a thud, by controlling airflow, and slowing down containers for a soft landing at its destination.

More recently, the SwissLog's Whisper Receiving System reportedly "responds to market demands by significantly reducing the noise that occurs when a pneumatic tube carrier arrives at a PTS station". Their re-engineered product includes an energy absorbing landing ramp and cushion, allowing it to be installed in "noise sensitive" areas of hospitals.

As I wrote in an earlier post, pneumatic tube systems are considered by some as contributing to the noise pollution in hospitals. The whispering canister technology certainly ties into the increasing focus of hospital architecture on therapeutic environments which promote healing through quietness, pleasant colours on the walls and green spaces.

The messiness of hospital practice however can't always be reduced to a whisper. One wonders whether we really need to do away with the thuds and thwacks of pneumatic tubes or whether these noises might in fact serve a function?

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