One generally wouldn’t immediately associate U2’s Bono with air compressors. Pneumatics and air compression technologies have always traditionally been a mainstay of industrial machinery. The immense amount of kinetic energy that is produced via a pneumatic system has been applied to a wide variety of technical applications. However, air compression technology is beginning to find itself in some very unexpected places.
When somebody mentions ‘air compression’, you no doubt immediately think of heavy duty industrial equipment digging up concrete. The potential power of the pneumatic cylinder and its usability within heavy machinery allows for an incredibly large amount of strenuous work to be completed within a very short time frame. The traditional application of air compression technology is all about arduous labour.
However, consider the roller coaster. Roller coasters are as thrilling as they are terrifying; they can move at death-defying speeds. The thrills and spills of many modern roller coaster are driven by pneumatic technologies. Historically, the ‘coaster’ was controlled by a chain and pulley system which considerably limited the potential speed and manoeuvres of the ride. The introduction of pneumatic systems into the construction of theme park rides made way for the invention of the ‘launched’ roller coaster. The potential kinetic energy produced by air compression technologies allows for unbelievable forces of acceleration. Adrenaline rides built upon pneumatic technologies are counted among some of the fastest rides in the world.
U2’s critically acclaimed 360° tour between 2009 and 2011 set multiple ticket sales and attendance records. One of the major selling points of the show was the innovative use of a purpose built, immense, circular, elevated stage. The giant construction was affectionately referred to as ‘The Claw’. The Claw allowed all members of the band to be clearly seen by the audience for the entire show and integrated many creative uses of performative technology including dynamic lighting effects and a giant expanding screen. The major problem facing the show’s logistics team was the international transportation and required quick assemblage of The Claw. The 51 m solid steel structure was assembled and disassembled almost nightly all over the world through the use of state of the art pneumatic systems.
So pneumatics has the power to move really big things, really quickly. But what about the small time stuff? The basic premise of air compression can be replicated on any scale and there its application can literally be applied to any gadget where quick acceleration and propulsion is required. Think of all those summers soaking your friends with a pump action water pistol. The water is propelled through the use of compressed air. Pneumatics is also finding itself within the realm of robotics. In 2010, the Western Australian Museum held the widely successful Dinosaurs Alive exhibit. Dinosaurs Alive featured a collection of realistic, moving prehistoric monsters powered by the use of pneumatic systems. The particular use of pneumatic technology allowed for a quieter, controlled but realistic movement of the dinosaur structures.
So next time you’re hurtling around the track of terrifying roller coaster ride, or staring down the mouth of a robotic raptor: think of the enormous amount of potential power held within those otherwise ‘innocent’ looking air compression cylinders.
Author Bio: Tim has always had a soft spot for technology and gadgetry. When he is not busy with the S&L Engineering team, he spends his time writing and sharing his passion for innovative uses of technology with others.