Occasionally we get so caught up in one path of innovation that all it takes is one clever idea to topple the competition. We’re not claiming that this is going to upheave the shipping industry, but this is the kind of clever idea that has some potential, both for commercial and military uses.
Balloon cranes have been around for a while, but they’ve been a little inconvenient in their design. It’s tough to get a crane suspended by a giant balloon to be stable.
But someone came up with a good idea, which is similar to the NFL Skycam. Basically, the balloon is tethered down with four long cables. And from those cables, a crane hangs. That means the crane can hypothetically move anywhere within the boundaries of those four tether cables.
The cool thing: if you tether the balloon crane offshore, you get an instant loading dock. Something that could be constructed in as long as it takes to inflate a balloon and fasten some cables. A lot cheaper and faster than building massive steel cranes and changing the topography of a shore, laying down tons of concrete and dredging the sea floor.
Something like this could give small towns the ability to compete with big seaport cities, or at least cut costs by getting their goods more directly.
What’s more, this could be implemented as a way for the military to deploy temporary seaports. For war too (which can be cool to imagine if you’re in to military engineering, war, or RTS videogames)—but we’re thinking more about what the national guard could do in the event of a disaster: massive hurricane destroys a town’s seaport, but survivors need food and everyone needs materials for reconstruction? Deploy a dock, and you’re good to go. Awesome.
Engineering is all about discovering a clever solution. And “discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”
- LiveScience article: “Robot Balloon Cranes Could Revolutionize World’s Seaports.”