Proof, if such were needed, that science is awesome and strange in equal measure: have you ever wondered how the hell flies can so effectively dodge your every effort to swat them? Sure you have – but you don’t have a lab full of stuff that you could use to find out the answer. The biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology do, however, so they’ve built a flight simulator and wired it into the brain of an immobilised blowfly.
As the fly responded to virtual objects flying around it, the scientists used a fluorescent microscope to watch how its brain processed the images. Compared to people, who can distinguish a maximum of 25 discrete images per second, blowflies are visual virtuosos: They can sense up to 100 separate images per second and respond fast enough to change their flight direction.
No mention of any progress on discovering why flies, despite their incredible visual acuity, spend hours battering themselves against a closed window when there’s an open one right next to it… [image by dafydd359]
Like something out of an early Neal Stephenson novel: DARPA have agreed to fund a coin-sized one-bladed nanocopter, from the Defense Sciences Office design brief:
The Nano Air Vehicle (NAV) Program will develop and demonstrate an extremely small (less than 7.5 cm), ultra-lightweight (less than 10 grams) air vehicle system with the potential to perform indoor and outdoor military missions.
The program will explore novel, bio-inspired, conventional and unconventional configurations to provide the warfighter with unprecedented capability for urban mission operations.
The nanocopter, called the Katana and designed by Lockheed Martin, is in addition to DARPA’s other micro-ornithopter robot concept (pictured here). Read here for more in depth background to the Katana’s progenitor, the Samurai.
 Although there doesn’t seem to be anything especially “nano” about it apart from being, y’know, really small.
[image and article from The Register]
Thanks to Bill Gibson and Boing Boing, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen this video of people basejumping wearing suits that give them flying squirrel wings. I guess that means you’ll just have to watch it again, doesn’t it?
A is for “awesome”.
OK, so this is going to make two OMGtehAWESOME posts in one week, but this is waaaay cooler than wall-sized touchscreen Missile Command.
Swiss lunatic Yves Rossy has achieved the ultimate pulp-sf dream of flying on a personal jetpack. The unit is shaped like a small set of wings strapped to his back, equipped with four jet engines; it has taken five years to build. But he has nailed it – behold!
There’s a much better video with the article on The Guardian’s website, but it isn’t embeddable (sorry). But seriously, click through and check it out. And envy.
Bertrand Piccard was the first person to fly around the world in a balloon, the longest flight ever. His new endeavour, the Solar Impulse, is even more ambitious. To highlight the need for sustainability, the project has a lofty goal:
“In a world depending on fossil energies, the Solar Impulse project is a paradox, almost a provocation: it aims to have an airplane take off and fly autonomously, day and night, propelled uniquely by solar energy, right round the world without fuel or pollution. An unachievable goal without pushing back the current technological limits in all fields…”
If we’re to make the targets that Gordon Brown set yesterday, we’ll be looking to projects like this for inspiration.
[via European Tribune, image by Bertrand Piccard]