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Human-Powered Helicopter Wins Sikorsky Prize

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YouTube / AeroVelo

Last year I wrote about the Sikorsky Prize, a $250,000 purse that would go to any group that could: make a human-powered helicopter that can fly for 60 seconds, reach an altitude of 3 meters (peak), and remain within a 10-square-meter area during that time. The prize was established in 1980, and people have been working to win it ever since. On June 13 of this year, the prize-winning flight finally took place. The winners are the team at AeroVelo. Here's video:

The flight lasted 64.1 seconds and reached an altitude of 3.3 meters. Here's a less inspiring video showing the four reference camera views used in determining altitude, duration, and drift within the 10-meter square area. The best part is at 1:40 when everybody freaks out, realizing that the feat has finally been accomplished:

And here's what a failed attempt looks like (from March 15):

(There's way more where that came from on the AeroVelo YouTube Channel.)

Popular Mechanics has a nice feature on the flight. Here's a snippet:

The prize-winning flight came at the very end of five days of test flights, after which the space would no longer be available. On two earlier flights, Reichert pilot the craft, called Atlas, to heights of 2 meters and 2.5 meters. With just minutes remaining before the team was scheduled to vacate the stadium to make way for an evening soccer practice, Reichert managed to squeeze in one last flight. Within 10 seconds a horn sounded signaling that he had exceeded the 3-meter mark.

At that point, Reichert knew that the challenge was to keep supplying enough power through his legs to keep the craft from descending too quickly. On two previous flights in which he'd flirted with the three-meter mark, Reichert had descended too abruptly and fallen afoul of a phenomenon called vortex ring state, in which a helicopter essentially gets sucked down by its own downwash. Both times Atlas had been wrecked. ...

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Creating a Water-Powered Hammer Using Stone Age Tools
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iStock // vuk8691

A "Monjolo" is a water-powered hammer made from a log and some sticks. It relies on flowing water from a stream to do its work.

In the video below, the anonymous laborer who goes by Primitive Technology on YouTube creates his own Monjolo from scratch. It's effectively a hollowed-out log placed in the path of a stream, supported by a structure of skinny beams. As the log fills up with water, it rises, then the water drains out the back and it comes crashing down again. When it crashes down, that's an opportunity for a hammer head on the end to do something useful—like crushing charcoal or grain.

The creator of Primitive Technology writes:

This is the first machine I’ve built using primitive technology that produces work without human effort. Falling water replaces human calories to perform a repetitive task. A permanent set up usually has a shed protecting the hammer and materials from the weather while the trough end sits outside under the spout. This type of hammer is used to pulverise grain into flour and I thought I might use one to mill dry cassava chips into flour when the garden matures. ...

Like all the Primitive Technology videos, this is done entirely without spoken or written language, and it's DIY paradise. Tune in for a look into what one man alone in the bush can create:

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This Just In
Typewriter Sold at Flea Market Turns Out to Be Rare World War II Enigma Machine

An antique typewriter sold at a Romanian flea market for $114 turned out to be a rare piece of wartime history: a German Wehrmacht Enigma I machine worth tens of thousands of dollars, Reuters reports.

To the uninitiated, the rare electromechanical cipher machine—which was first developed in Germany in the 1920s, and was used to encode and decode Nazi military messages during World War II—resembles a writing machine. But when a cryptography professor spotted it, he knew the device’s true worth. He purchased the relic and later put it up for auction at the Bucharest auction house Artmark.

Artmark employee Vlad Georgescu told CNN that the machine was made in Germany in 1941. It was in near-perfect condition thanks to its owner, who cleaned and repaired it, and “took great care of it,” Georgescu said.

The Enigma I’s starting price was $10,300. On Tuesday, July 11, an online bidder purchased it for more than $51,000. "These machines are very rare, especially entirely functional ones," Georgescu said. Historians, however, say that Romania may still be home to more unidentified Engima I machines, as the country was once allied with Nazi Germany before joining forces with the Allies in 1944.

During World War II, Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, Britain's central codebreaking site, built a giant computer called the Bombe to calculate solutions that solved the Enigma’s supposedly unbreakable code. Some military historians believe that their efforts shortened the war by at least two years.

[h/t BBC News]

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