Heavy-Duty Data Transfer

Medieval soldiers clamping down the arm of a trebuchet. Image credit: Ian V. Hogg via Encyclopædia Britannica.
Medieval soldiers clamping down the arm of a trebuchet. Image credit: Ian V. Hogg via Encyclopædia Britannica.

Every waking minute, even when I’m in private, someone comes up and asks me, “Sam, how fast can we possibly move data from one place to another?” I’m tired of it. I just want to eat alone. But because I am kind, funny, hot, but mostly kind, I will run through the math. Just for you.

The current fastest (recorded) data transfer speed is 319 terabits/second over 30,001 kilometers, or slightly faster than a South Korean internet connection, by using optical fibers.

These fibers are tiny. Teeny tiny. Teeny weeny tiny. I'll be blunt: if I can’t see my internet pipes with m'own peepers, I simply cannot trust that data. So our ideal data transfer must be visible. Preferably, I should be able to construct this infrastructure using standard household materials – nothing more than a dozen baulks of wood harvested from ship hulls and the remains of homes of a nearby pillaged town. Since the internet is everywhere and yet nowhere, we must adapt our new data transfer system to any arbitrary location. This contraption would have to be mobile.

As it turns out, a team of engineers called the Pannonian Avars had solved this problem years ago: with the advent of the Trebuchet in the 6th century AD.

A modern counterweight trebuchet can theoretically yeet a 100 kg projectile 200 meters with a 6,000 kg counterweight. Assuming we use solely 1 TB micro SD cards (250 milligrams), our trebuchet can handle 400,000 cards before snapping in half like a darn-tootin’ toothpick. 400 petabytes!

Math time! So to make our lives easier, we'll normalize all units to gigabytes and meters. This is the fastest optical speed: 39,880gigabytes3,001,000m=0.0132889037gigabytes1m

And our projected trebuchet: 400,000,000gigabytes200m=2,000,000gigabytes1m

To account for speed, I'll make some assumptions about our MicroSD payload. The bundled payload's diameter is 6 feet and we've maxed out the payload at 400K cards (100 kg). We'll also assume the windspeed is 2.68 m/s, which is the low end for average windspeed in the US.

I’m gonna level with you, I barely passed high school science. “Punnett square” this, “stop sniffing the gas out of the Bunsen burner” that. So when I started thinking about how fast this bundle of micro SD cards would be traveling, my brain started to hurt. And I did NOT manifest that for 2022. So here we are. I can only imagine flinging a bunch of cards across land would move significantly faster than fiber. Fiber is tiny, and it's easy for the internet juice to get caught in a tangle.

Trebuchet Data Transfer (TDT for short, since I imagine we'll be seeing this term often) seems promising. Encryption in transit barely holds a candle to the trebuchet method. What could be more secure than being able to see your precious data being flung 200 meters by a medieval siege weapon? That's the Web3-level trust we were promised. If it was good enough for the Romans, it’ll be good enough for you.