30

It's a large cuboid box, looks to be around 2 feet by 1 by 1, tapered/bevelled at the edges, moving across an office ceiling at roughly 1 metre per second on a rail. The narration accompanying the footage talks about federal investigators looking into dodgy accounting in 1975 so it could be the FBI or SEC, or just random office stock footage not related to the date or subject.

It can be seen in this short clip on twitter

Screencap from the clip, object is between the heads of the two men: Picture of object

Having moved to the right below the light fitting: Second picture of object

This clip is from the Barbie episode of The Toys that Made Us, first season, second episode.

It appears to be stock footage, and the documentary gives the following credits at the end:

enter image description here enter image description here

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    Do you have any more information on the source of the video? If we know more about where and when it was filmed, we may be able to research what internal transport/communication systems were installed in that building at that date. – sempaiscuba May 24 at 11:27
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    Afraid not, it's basically stock footage, used in the Barbie episode of The Toys that Made Us documentary on Netflix, 28 minutes in. – ledge May 24 at 15:08
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    Do they state the source of the clip in the credits at the end of the documentary? – sempaiscuba May 24 at 16:06
34

Confirming Brian Z and his answer: this is most likely a penumatic tube mail system. And strictly speaking: "What is the object moving…?" – It's not a "cuboid box" but a cylindrical container, also called capsule.

Most easily visible in this still:

enter image description here

You see a darker edge on top, a lighter reflection of light at the bottom of the tube. On the right is a hanging fixture for the tube extending right to the bottom of the loghter reflection. It's really everywhere, but more pronounced to the right of the head:
you also see colour variations of the ceiling as the light passes through the tube. This is most visible to the left, where the lights appear lens-like distorted. Also, the darker upper edge extends from phase change lighting extends all the way across the picture. Tubes vary in size and can (now) take 50kg.

This is not a rail bound system: The "darkening" is not just the obvious shadow above the box/capsule. The colour isn't uniform across the whole tube. That is clearly independent from lighting the capsule. Reflections on a possible rail at the bottom are one thing, but that colour variation along the entire picture gives it away. The distortion of lights left of the pillar and the gradient from the tube to the right of the second head are incompatible with just "rail". These would need explanation, not capsule/box forms.

Exaggerated:

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

In case the verbal descriptions are insufficient: only the glistening "rail" speaks for a rail system. But it is the lower edge of the tube, as these numerous hints would confirm, which a "rail" cannot explain:

enter image description here

Especially the last few frames to the right make the tube quite obvious.

These are still in use today.

Not only thinks the German State Minister for Digitization that these are still indispensible.

They also look cool:

enter image description here enter image description here

Source: The Pneumatic Tube System (PTS)

For a size comparison of possible systems, roughly "from that era":

enter image description here A look at what’s left of NYC’s pneumatic tubes Surprisingly, some buildings still boast functioning pneumatic systems June 07, 2015 05:00PM and Pneumatic Tubes In New York City

And they could be a bit larger still:

The Pneumatic Despatch
enter image description here enter image description here
The London pneumatic tube mail train at its formative stage!

More variety:

enter image description here src: Pneumatic tubes

enter image description here src: Pneumatic Tube Systems: Spare Parts, Service and Support

enter image description here src: Society Adventures: Exploring Stanford Hospital’s Pneumatic Tube System

enter image description here src: Pneumatic Tube System / Carriers

enter image description here src: Pneumatic sample transport

enter image description here Image: Photograph Showing An Operator Preparing To Feed A Carrier Holding About 500 Letters Into The Transmitter For Despatch Through The Tube From Brooklyn Post Office To New York General Post Office C 1899 ((Sspl/Getty Images))

enter image description here enter image description here Distroller Wərld Opens Los Angeles Flagship Store

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    It's not clear to me that the darker area at the top isn't just a shadow from the box - it doesn't extend beyond the box itself - the two darker patches in the light strips are i think just gaps between the lights. The pneumatic tubes shown so far are a much smaller diameter and the cylinders don't resemble the box. Also the bottom of the box appears to be above the rail/reflection - plausible for a rail, not for a tube. – ledge May 24 at 12:41
  • Suspended below - what you think is the reflection on the tube I think is the rail. The suspension hanger to the right could be for a rail or a tube. I don't think the quality of the footage is good enough for colour variations to be decisive. I'd be prepared to accept this answer if I could see a photo of a larger tube with a similar cylinder, from the same era! – ledge May 24 at 13:00
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    I agree with you, but its travelling pretty slow compared to the pneumatic tube I remember seeing in a newspaper building in my youth. That one arrived with a solid WHANG, whereas clip shows its about as fast as a lethargic cat walking. – Criggie May 25 at 3:37
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    In the future we will all be using pneumatic tubes for transportation! – pipe May 25 at 8:04
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    I really doubt that this is a pneumatic system. Those seem to have higher velocity and most importantly: tubes. I think it is this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_track_vehicle_system – AplusKminus May 27 at 8:15
24

That's a pneumatic tube. The tube itself is transparent in this case, but the object you see moving through it is a capsule carrying documents, or maybe cash or other small objects. They are still used in some places (in that link, for delivering food), but were a common feature of most offices before the rise of computers and digital technology.

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    "Before", and while and after… says one State Minister for Digitization Considering how big this is, I assume it transports magnetic tape for mainframes? – LаngLаngС May 24 at 10:55
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    I think it's a rail not a tube (I can see the rail now, I thought it was a light fitting before, will edit the question). – ledge May 24 at 10:57
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    @ledge at the top you see a darker edge, and at the bottom a lighter reflection, just like what you'd expect with a transparent tube. That also solves the problem whether a monorail suspension goes through a light fixture or not. And in your first still to the right is also a hanger the extends exactly below the lower edge of the tube. – LаngLаngС May 24 at 11:16
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    I'd say this looks like a reasonable answer. Look at the appearance of the tubes in this installation at the European Patent Office for comparison. – sempaiscuba May 24 at 11:24
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    Banks with drive-through lanes in particular still use them. My pharmacy has one for its second drive-through lane as well. – T.E.D. May 24 at 13:25
7

I must respectfully disagree with existing answers to this interesting question.

As Keith McClary noted, this object has a larger diameter than most pneumatic capsules. Capsules have reason to be small, both to increase pressure per area on their exposed surface, and so that tubes with wide bends can fit into buildings. According to an archived article from capsu.org, "Most tubes were 2 1/2 inches in diameter, with 3 inch diameter tubes being used where traffic was particularly heavy." What is shown in the video may be a foot in a diameter.

No tube at all is visible here. Rather, the mystery object rides atop a thick, rigid rail, casting a tight shadow upwards which might otherwise be distorted by the light passing through a glass pipe. This rail's hanger therefore has to be offset to avoid fouling the payload. Despite the camera's movement, the hanger visible at the right seems to consist of a single L-shaped element. No tube would be hung in this fashion.

Wikipedia suggests a normal speed of 7.5 to 10 meters per second for pneumatic capsules. The object in the video is moving not much faster than the men walk, or maybe a tenth of a capsule's speed.

The "MATTEL, INC." stock certificate that follows is a good clue that could lead to a precise answer. While Mattel is a toy company, the object is not obviously a toy, though it could be a prototype of one.

The object is used for some kind of transit but as we do not recognize its form, it is probably a purpose-built container of specific dimension, a shuttle borne along the rail by a chain drive or worm drive system.

  • 1
    With all due respect to Wikipedia, they are wrong about the speeds. Take a look at this video of a pneumatic installation at the European Patent Office. Modern medical transport systems often use capsules about the size of the one shown, and much larger pneumatic capsules were used by the Hamburg pneumatic post from the 1950s (similar systems were also used in London, Chicago & New York) – sempaiscuba May 27 at 5:35
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    @sempaiscuba What you link is labelled as an "installation in the european patent office by Yvonne Lee Schultz, 2004". She is an artist and the tubes are way curvier than functional systems need to be. While I agree that larger capsules have existed, they require much greater pressure and wider bends. Do you have a better citation for typical diameters? – Aaron Brick May 27 at 5:56
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    That video was just to demonstrate the fact that speeds are not always as fast as Wikipedia claims. In general, modern systems tend to have faster speeds than older ones (better materials are available) and smaller capsules tend to travel faster than larger ones. For diameters, Parsian Medical Co use capsules of 60mm to 300mm diameter. The Hamburg mail capsule we saw in the museum there was about 4 ft long. – sempaiscuba May 27 at 6:23
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    The Mattel Inc Stock certificate is there because the clip is from the 'Barbie' episode of The Toys that Made Us Netflix documentary. Unfortunately, the OP hasn't responded about whether the source of the clip is listed in the credits at the end of the episode. – sempaiscuba May 27 at 6:26
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    Capsules can be bigger and slower than typical, rail carriages do not need the tapering. Slower might be a good thing, if you transport delicate contents, (in this case magnetic tapes from accounting to archive?) The light reflections at the bottom of the tube, near the lamps, and distortions all the way, typical for a tube: how do you explain them? (Disclaimer: I thought of rail before as well, but discarded it completely after repeated looking) – LаngLаngС May 27 at 8:44
5

The clip looks like it's from a movie, carefully framed to show this exotic looking gizmo. I think it's a movie effect.

The large diameter transparent tube with no visible supports or joints is unlike any pneumatic tube system I can find depicted. Also the diameter of the tube is much larger than the capsule, implying it has unreasonably thick walls.

3

I think this is an Electric Track Vehicle system (thanks to user AplusKminus for the suggestion). "The system utilizes independently driven vehicles traveling on a monorail track network, consisting of straight track elements, bends, curves and transfer-units for changing of travel direction"

ETV system

"ETV systems were primarily put on the market in the sixties by German company Telelift." This fits in with the likely era of the footage.

The shape of the object resembles this 1978 Telelift container:

Telelift container

This also explains how it seems to glide above the rail - the wheels are hidden by the sides of the rail.

These Siemens ETV containers also look similar:

enter image description here

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