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Semi-human-powered flight project gets off the ground ... just

By

January 22, 2012

The wings at rest in Smeets' workshop not long before the first test flight

The wings at rest in Smeets' workshop not long before the first test flight

Image Gallery (5 images)

A Dutch mechanical engineer is working on realizing da Vinci's dream of human-powered flight, with some help from modern technology. Jarnos Smeets is the driving force between the Human Birdwings Project, which utilizes a combination of gadgets including an HTC Wildfire S and a Wii remote. He claims to have conducted his first successful test flight this week, even though he didn't appear to get too far off the ground.

Smeets' basic concept is a little bit different than Jetman's, who managed to rocket himself across part of the Grand Canyon. Instead of a jetpack, a set of motorized wings made from a large kite sacrificed for the project and powered by a pair of brushless outrunner motors, is hooked on to the back of a (hopefully) willing participant.

The "pilot" also slips his arms through a pair of specially designed sleeves that are linked to the wings by a flexible connection and include an Android smartphone (the HTC Wildfires have been used so far) on each sleeve. When the pilot flaps his arms like a bird, the Android phones send speed information from their internal accelerometers via Bluetooth to a Seeduino microcontroller board on the back of the harness that then translates the human arm motions into motor-powered flaps of the wings.

The motorized propulsion system uses planetary gearboxes connected to eccentric shifts to achieve a range of motion that mimics a bird's wing-flap. That's all a technical way of saying the design converts human arm flaps into a more elegant motion that might actually generate some lift with the help of the wings.

Smeets also added a Wii remote mounted on the backplate of the harness to the original design, connecting its accelerometer with those in the Android smartphones to be able to tell the acceleration of the arms relative to that of the wings. Here's Smeets' schematic of the complete backplate that would be worn as a backpack by the pilot:

Smeets' most recent schematic of the backplate strapped to a human pilot and connected to ...

The wings themselves were constructed using lightweight kite fabric within a frame and with a series of custom-cut aerodynamic vertical ribs across the underside for stabilization. There's also a small tail-wing covering the mechanical parts of the apparatus that runs perpendicular to the main wing assemblies.

The project has been underway for several months now, and as you can see in the video of the test flight below, this early prototype does seem to suspend Smeets a few feet off the ground for at least a few seconds. Hardly a revolution, but a big first step, if it's legitimate. Now he says he will continue fine-tuning and tweaking the system to get it closer to the dream of da Vinci ... and Smeets.

Check out the first test run in the video below, and let us know what you think.

Source: TechCrunch

Ed's note: Some of our commenters have pointed to inconsistencies in this video, suggesting it's a fake. Smeet's has posted the following reply on YouTube in response to the issue:

"*UPDATE* Its amazing to see how this video created discussion. And I understand why. Ofcourse is an EDITED video! We combined two takes, the second take has a piece of ducktape on the wing (as we damaged a small part of the wings surface during the first try). Anyway, just wait for the coming video's and see for yourself!"

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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20 Comments

Don't you blokes watch the video?It's a fake,obviously so as well!

David Whyte
22nd January, 2012 @ 04:29 pm PST

FAKE!

David Anderton
22nd January, 2012 @ 05:52 pm PST

please point out the fake areas in the times line David W and David A, all I saw was epic fail, no CGI

Bill Bennett
22nd January, 2012 @ 07:16 pm PST

Ok - its fake. Before he flies, notice no black dot above the circular design on the right wing. The camera pans down, goes blurry (cut to CGI), then pans up - mysteriously, a black dot now exists above the circular design. Also notice the change (its sublt, but there) in the shadow direction, and the (more obvious) change in the reflectiveness of the wings.

Seb Stent
23rd January, 2012 @ 02:40 am PST

good effort guys, cheers! I also being internalising a very similar complex situation in my head re human-powered flapping wings an hope to fly them in the next Bognor birdman :)

klo2001
23rd January, 2012 @ 02:54 am PST

Keep trying! I look forward to seeing this invention work.

Carlos Grados
23rd January, 2012 @ 06:42 am PST

a little disappointed I'm going to have to start questioning

the validity of the articles i read on this website.. its so fake

its been posted fake on many website and on its own obviously fake

just looking at the lame "cutaways" and obvious CGI on the

wings with a mirror duplication of the left one with overlaid graphic.. shadowing

is bad, etc etc.

howsthebeach
23rd January, 2012 @ 08:21 am PST

OK.

I've seen better hang time on basketball players (no wings).

No risk of getting too close to the sun (yet).

Keep on tryin'! ;-D

citizenw
23rd January, 2012 @ 08:32 am PST

It boggles the mind that otherwise intelligent people can't see how clearly and obviously this video is a hoax.

Here's a clue: Any time you see a video online showing something unbelievable and the video for NO reason leaves the subject (in this example the camera is pointed at the ground JUST before he starts to "fly") you should ask yourself why.

For those that know this technique it's basically a "splice" for lack of a better term. That's when the video changes from the real subject (the guy before he starts "flying") to the digital version which can now show the incredible, but fake, act.

There's no need to believe this fake junk when there's plenty of amazing REAL flying going on such as this:

http://www.gizmag.com/go/3280/

Devildog1967
23rd January, 2012 @ 08:37 am PST

It's been known for a long time that human arms don't have the power to allow human flight. If you really want to do something like this, find a way to power it with your LEGS.

Larry Hooten
23rd January, 2012 @ 10:00 am PST

They obviously sounded very disappointing at the end (one or two were cursing). Hopefully they'll improve the system and get better results.

Zet 'm op.

Fretting Freddy the Ferret pressing the Fret
23rd January, 2012 @ 10:31 am PST

Each time they look at the ground there is a video transition. Come on, Gizmag. Is today April Fool's day? It's so obviously fake that it's laughable.

Jay Lloyd
23rd January, 2012 @ 12:52 pm PST

As soon as I read that they were putting cell phones on each side just for their accelerometers I thought these guys can't be serious--weight would matter too much to do that. Then I saw the video. Burn.

Arf
23rd January, 2012 @ 02:08 pm PST

those hops are perfectly doable with a hang glider running even on level ground.

Ucking Isfun
23rd January, 2012 @ 03:00 pm PST

JUST WANNA SAY THAT I LOVE GIZMAG AND THE INNOVATORS WHO STRIVE TO REALIZE THEIR DREAMS. THANK YOU KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK ONE AND ALL - BLUE SKIES!

Simo Mack
23rd January, 2012 @ 11:14 pm PST

Dear gizmag,

why are you publishing such a joke in an environment which is meant to be serious?

It is obvious that this fragile, nonsense-constuction can never fly.

If you don't belive, watch the video. Acceleration and movements are absolutely unnatural.

In the flying phase the windsurfing sail is producing negative lift (watch the shape of the sail), there is nothing to balance weight and forces.

It is just ridiculous if you want me to belive this joke!

Suvilo
24th January, 2012 @ 12:04 am PST

I was hopeing he would fly back to them.

Joe Tomicki
24th January, 2012 @ 01:31 am PST

Fake - please note the dispersion of the wing-shadow.

Your rendered light source is too close to the wing... if it were the real sun there would be crisp clean lines. You'd have to be at a significatn altitude to achieve such blurred edges.

CreativeApex
24th January, 2012 @ 11:56 am PST

Looks Real to me.

Paul Anthony
30th January, 2012 @ 02:17 pm PST

Art and Larry, you did not read the article.

"The "pilot" also slips his arms through a pair of specially designed sleeves that are linked to the wings by a flexible connection and include an Android smartphone (the HTC Wildfires have been used so far) on each sleeve. When the pilot flaps his arms like a bird, the Android phones send speed information from their internal accelerometers via Bluetooth to a Seeduino microcontroller board on the back of the harness that then translates the human arm motions into motor-powered flaps of the wings.

The motorized propulsion system uses planetary gearboxes connected to eccentric shifts to achieve a range of motion that mimics a bird's wing-flap. That's all a technical way of saying the design converts human arm flaps into a more elegant motion that might actually generate some lift with the help of the wings."

This is not human POWERED flight, it would seem to be human ACTUATED flight. the wings are driven by motors triggered by the phone computer from signals from the pilot's arms. The phones were a decent choice for weight to function ratio. You are not going to find a ready made computer of less size for less money.

I have flown a hang glider a couple of times, and I can see nothing to declare a fraud. The movement of the winds is preprogrammed to mimic a bird's motions, and IS NOT DRIVEN BY THE MUSCLES OF A HUMAN BEING. This is electric motors doing what they are told to do.

kellory
22nd June, 2012 @ 07:37 pm PDT
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