We humans aren’t great power sources, despite what The Matrix might have you believe, with our sustained output being roughly equivalent to about one quarter of a horsepower (maybe half if you’re an endurance runner or cyclist). This works pretty well for our natural form of locomotion as we don’t need that much to move ourselves around but it becomes something of an issue when we start using more exotic forms of transportation. Cycling and rowing can be fairly efficient forms of transportation when all you have is human power however once you want to take to the skies things start to get a little hairy as the power required for sustained flight is usually well above what your typical human can provide.
That’s not to say we haven’t tried, far from it. Attempts to create a purely human powered craft go as far back as 1923, a mere 20 years after the first powered, heavier than air flight took place at Kitty Hawk. Most of these experiments could only be considered experimental in nature as the distances they could cover were rarely more than a few meters and most of them required a powered assist in order to take off, thereby invalidating them as being truly human powered. The late 1970s however saw the creation of the Gossamer Condor and Albatross, both fully human powered craft that took the Kremer Prize. However probably the most famous of all the human powered craft comes in the form of the MIT’s Daedalus a human powered craft that flew from the Isle of Crete to Santorini, a distance of 115KMs that was completed in just under 4 hours.
You’d then think that a human powered helicopter wouldn’t be too far behind however the design principles behind a helicopter present a much larger challenge than those of a traditional aeroplane. Instead of pushing the aerofoil via the use of a propeller to generate lift a helicopter instead whips the aerofoil itself through the air. This, traditionally, requires a lot more effort in order to generate the same amount of lift and the tricks used for the current generation of human powered craft (light materials and giant wings) present even greater challenges when those wings need to be under rotational stress. We do have several decades of aeronautical engineering advances since then however and one team has finally managed to create a human powered helicopter, one that can fly for just over a minute:
It’s an incredible device sporting 4 rotors that each have a diameter of 20m, each of which is larger than the individual rotors of the mighty Boeing Chinook. That incredible size is also coupled with a weight that seems almost impossible for a craft of that size, weighing in at a paltry 55kg. One thing to note however is that whilst this does count as a human powered helicopter the height it attained, some 3 meters or so, means that this craft was still operating well within the ground effect which means that it’s effectively working with a much better lift profile than would be expected once it reached a higher altitude. Some would then not classify this as a helicopter and instead call it a ground effect craft, which I’d agree with in some sense, but it’s still a pretty amazing feat of engineering despite the fact that it hasn’t left ground effect yet.
It’s really quite amazing to see how a combination of engineering and human power can create things like this which were the stuff of fantasy not too long ago. Sure it might not have any practical uses right now but the technology they developed will definitely flow down to other lightweight craft, further improving their flight capabilities and characteristics. We might never all have our own pedal powered aircraft but it still remains a valuable engineering challenge, much like the solar car races held here in Australia. I can’t wait to see what they develop next as there’s already been implementations of other exotic aircraft like the human powered ornithopter so others can’t be that far behind.
I can’t say I was enthused at the prospect at getting up at 7:00am this morning to meet with all the other media people over breakfast but I figured I should make the effort, if only for the fact that free food is hard to turn down. It was a bit of a struggle but nothing compared to attempting to do the same in freezing Canberra weather, something that I’m thankful for the brief respite from. After the breakfast and a quick chat with everyone we were whisked back down to the showcase floor to have a cosy session with some of the Microsoft guys, their customers and some solution providers.
If I’m honest these kinds of high level talks bore the crap out of me. I understand their place, they’re great for people who aren’t into the nuts and bolts of technology, but for someone like me who lives and dies by their understanding of how to implement/configure/maintain things they’re just not that useful. After that it was off to our session choices for the day and I had chosen a path that was focused on virtualization/cloud topics which turned out ok, save for the couple sessions that were simply not worth attending. In case you’re wondering the sessions I attended were:
VIR 312 and VIR315 well worth attending as they gave a really solid overview of the new features in Hyper-V 3.0. I had read about most of them before but it was great to get an introduction to those things that aren’t usually covered in much detail in marketing material. Those two sessions were the basis for the first part of my blog for LifeHacker (which will be up tomorrow morning I believe) with the second half being based on some of the things I gleaned whilst attending the cloud sessions. The sessions I’d probably skip catching up on are WSV313 and VIR316 as they’d only be useful if you’d never designed a virtual infrastructure before or if you you weren’t capable of comparing Microsoft and VMware’s offerings. The last two were really just for me, although I’ll probably use some of the info I got from them in tomorrow’s post.
I was also lucky enough to win one of the helicopter rides because I tweeted something non-generic at the right time. It was a pretty quick affair, just a 15 minute jaunt around Broadbeach and Soutbank but it was pretty awesome to get a birds eye view of the place. I certainly didn’t expect to win when I entered with my slightly bizwank-esque tweet but obviously the people behind the account love to indulge in a little geek humour.
The whole day was really entertaining but thoroughly exhausting. When I wasn’t in a session or a helicopter I was up in the media room review my notes from the previous session and attempting to draft up the post for the day. When I was first told that I only needed to do one post a day I didn’t consider it much of a challenge, I mean I’ve been doing exactly that for years now, but its one thing to research a single idea and write about it and a whole other thing to try and distil 6+ hours of content into a single blog post. I think I did a good job of getting at a couple ideas I believe are key (and the editor liked it) but I’m so exhausted that I’m not sure how the greater public will recieve it.
But then again I don’t usually know that anyway 😉