RSVP — the game


One of the most interesting aspects of corporate history is the development of interoffice communication. After the skyscraper was invented in the early 20th century, large companies began to occupy increasingly spread-out places. That meant they had to rely on increasingly complex ways to move messages around — including pneumatic-tube systems, speaker-tube grids, and wax-cylinder recorders.

And now … blimps. A researcher at Hewlett Packard has developed the first ever intraoffice blimp: A tiny dirigible that ferries messages from one cubicle to another. You can watch a video of the blimp’s maiden voyage here, and there’s also a Q&A with the inventor, who notes some of the environmental problems of blimpmail:

I think the noise of the blimp’s fans was more of a problem than the color. I imagine that people will not like the airspace above their cubicles filling with buzzing objects, but I’m sure there are ways to design these systems responsibly. Perhaps they have to fly at least at a certain height, or only during certain times. And if it’s a useful service, I think people will get used to it.

Me, I’m kind of charmed by the idea; there’s something almost Blade Runneresque about the idea of massive objects floating around inside my office.

Joking aside, the inventor here actually made one interesting breakthrough. He quickly realized that any guidance-control system would be too heavy for the blimp to lift, so he made the blimp “dumb”. The control systems are in the room around it: A set of video cameras tracks the movement, calculates the vectors in which the blimp needs to fire its engines to reach its destination, and squirts the commands over to the balloon. This system means you could conceivably roll out a pretty big fleet of blimps pretty quickly, since it would only take one “brain” to route them all.

The inventor notes that when his blimp project was mentioned on Slashdot last month, he was beseiged with resumes from geeks who wanted to apply for jobs on Hewlett Packard’s “blimp team.” Heh.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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