Consider the Catapult
When it comes to the future of delivery, it's time to look up. Way up.
Like a lot of good ideas, the catapult was quickly turned to martial ends. No wonder this miracle of physics is still unloved by peasants everywhere. I think it’s time to rehab the trebuchet and take to the air — for local delivery from above.
Please note, I’m not talking about flinging people across the Interior Plateau with giant catapults. That’s the kind of foolish thinking that gets rural futurism a bad rap. Adding human beings to a payload is expensive and complicated. After all, it’s expected you will keep them alive. Despite the suspect physics of CGI, the catapult is not a realistic people-mover.
But if you presume there are improvements to be found in the area of catapult materials and technology, and you aren’t trying to transport people, there’s equally good reasons to believe the power of the mighty counterweight could give us a viable, eco-friendly means of moving goods to Canadian households, without using road, rail, or water links.
Repurpose the trebuchet’s power and raison d’etre from a ballistic weapon and it can become a simple, low-energy launch catapult. Imagine aerodynamic drone capsules flung skyward, spreading solar panel-clad wings, converting launch energy into lift, and locking onto to their target destination for a smooth glide to a safe landing on your doorstep. Now that’s a business model. All you need are some engineers and test pumpkins:
A catapult eliminates the huge energy inputs and weight of fuel needed for craft to become airborne using rocketry or jet power. A lack of human beings onboard reduces construction expenses further. The reusable pods would be lighter after delivery, requires less energy to lift off, and can return to base, or repeater stations for their return journey. They might even harvest energy on descent with propellors or similar. Research has already begun:
Enthusiasts in search of world records are currently throwing pumpkins in excess of one kilometer at the annual Punkin Chunkin world championship pumpkin-hurling event in Delaware. By upsizing current technology, delivery ranges in hundreds of kilometers seem feasible, perhaps even conservative in scope.
Imagine what’s possible with trebuchets built to industrial scale. Trebuchet equipped ports on the northern edge of the continent could offload container ships in an ice-free North, delivering to Canada’s population, strung along the West to East chord of the 49th parallel (or however farther north we have moved due to climate change). Progressively smaller launchers would offer a granular network, until small-scale local stations are delivering at the neighbourhood level, with fleets of package delivery drones flung into service from a local node to specific addresses. All of course managed by a central computer system to route each drone’s altitude and vector for collision avoidance.
It turns out catapult delivery is actually kind of small potatoes compared to one company’s dream of achieving orbit (see link below):
Spinlaunch has come up with a novel launch system that propels crafts into space, significantly undercut(ting) SpaceX in price and use carbon-neutral fuel! Their solution? A giant catapult the size of the Statue of Liberty.
Still think catapults are crazy? Need a local economic benefit? Picture the background in the image above as a Cariboo panorama, along with the jobs and opportunity, innovation and investment of a high-tech, eco-friendly industry. It seems a far-fetched vision given the intractability of bureaucracy and the limited scope of embedded systems and ideas. But it’s time to look beyond current paradigms.
These are interesting times. Despite the seeming anachronism, giant catapults might eliminate the dangers of road and rail supply-chain disruptions, reduce our fossil-fuel dependence, and bring some modern problems to ground. Archimedes codified the science of catapulting and was a siege engine designer in his own right. He also pointed out a big enough lever can change anything. Even the future.
Without a doubt, commercial catapulting is a far-fetched idea in need of a suitable fulcrum. The search for low-carbon transportation alternatives may provide the pivot point. Catapults. A good idea whose time has come? History has described stranger arcs.