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Canada Transportation Technology

Aerovelo's Human-Powered Helicopter Wins $250,000 Sikorsky Prize 58

Posted by timothy
from the energetic-commute dept.
First time accepted submitter oritonic1 writes "Since 1980, several teams have tried (and failed) to build a human-powered helicopter that could win the elusive $250,000 Sikorsky prize. But a Canadian start-up, Aerovelo, has finally taken the crown with Atlas, a human-powered craft that managed to stay at least 10 feet in the air, for 60 seconds, within a 30'x30' area."
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Aerovelo's Human-Powered Helicopter Wins $250,000 Sikorsky Prize

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Yabba-dabba-doo!

  • Pave Low that I shot down last night. Do I get a killstreak reward if I were to swat it with a flyswatter?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    what blows my mind is how slowly the wings move.

  • by tom17 (659054)

    Congrats guys.

    This pretty much proves that a human athlete has enough power to provide enough thrust/downforce for lift. So my question is, would it be feasible to generate this same level of thrust in a smaller area using the same amount of power?

    I'm guessing that by having such large rotors with low air speeds and low thrust per unit area, that efficiencies are kept high and this is why it works.

    Would there be that huge an efficiency decrease if the same amount of thrust were generated on a smaller area?

    • Congrats guys.

      This pretty much proves that a human athlete has enough power to provide enough thrust/downforce for lift. So my question is, would it be feasible to generate this same level of thrust in a smaller area using the same amount of power?

      Gear reduction, perhaps?

      • by Procrasti (459372)

        Congrats guys. This pretty much proves that a human athlete has enough power to provide enough thrust/downforce for lift. So my question is, would it be feasible to generate this same level of thrust in a smaller area using the same amount of power?

        Gear reduction, perhaps?

        No, unless I'm mistaken, you can't use gears to change power, only to alter speed and torque. There are some (mostly negligable) losses in gears, but anything else would imply that gears can generate power, then you'd have a perpetual momentum device.

        • Congrats guys.

          This pretty much proves that a human athlete has enough power to provide enough thrust/downforce for lift. So my question is, would it be feasible to generate this same level of thrust in a smaller area using the same amount of power?

          Gear reduction, perhaps?

          No, unless I'm mistaken, you can't use gears to change power, only to alter speed and torque. There are some (mostly negligable) losses in gears, but anything else would imply that gears can generate power, then you'd have a perpetual momentum device.

          I was assuming GP was using the term "power" as a substitute for "work." Since his question is whether or not it would be possible to generate the same amount of thrust across a smaller airframe, while still doing the same amount of work, I presume that gear reduction could be a valid method of achieving that goal, because you would be able to increase the speed of the prop (and thus, generate more lift) without the power source (the cyclist) having to expend any more energy than before.

          'Course, IANA Mechan

          • by Procrasti (459372)

            Again, no... I'm pretty sure work and energy are exactly the same thing... or rather work is the change in the energy of the system between two states... so the work you do is exactly equal to the energy you put in.

            Power is just the change in energy over time, or the work over time... or the rate at which you are working or creating energy. P = dE/dt.

            So, what I said before about generating power applies to generating energy or work, and gears cannot do that, or otherwise you would have a perpetual motion de

    • by PRMan (959735)
      That's exactly it. I think they increased the surface area to ridiculous lengths to their advantage. It's not very usable that way, but they did manage to meet the parameters of the contest. I'm not sure this design could ever be shrunk enough to be usable, but maybe as a way to put a small electric motor on a helicopter that you can slow enough not to kill you in a crash landing, this could have merit.
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        I think the point was to meet the parameters of the contest. Why does this need to have any other application?

        A proper helicopter can autorotate.

    • by Moofie (22272)

      I'm sure they built it that huge just for funsies. Surely it didn't occur to them to use smaller rotors, you know, like every single helicopter ever built on Earth. They probably just didn't think of it.

      Man, people who do things that have never been done before are so dumb...

    • Re:Thrust (Score:5, Informative)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @02:25PM (#44253427)

      So my question is, would it be feasible to generate this same level of thrust in a smaller area using the same amount of power?

      No. The amount of thrust goes up linearly with the velocity of the airflow, but the amount of energy required to move that air goes up as the square of the velocity. So for the fixed amount of energy that a human can produce, you will get more thrust by it pushing down a large mass of air at a low velocity than a smaller amount of air at a high velocity.

      • by tom17 (659054)

        Explained perfectly. It's kind of what I *thought* in a fuzzy kind of way. Good to see it explained :)

        Ta.

    • I'm not an aero engineer, but I think that ground effect is becoming significant when the area swept by the blades > the periphery of that area times height. That appears to be the case here. If the lift area becomes smaller, there's less ground effect for the same height.

      Even ignoring ground effect, smaller rotor area is similar to smaller aspect ratio in wings, and leads to less lift for a given power input.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    My congratulations to Aerovelo for a job well done! Also consolation and respect to the UMd team, which made a convincing effort and came so so close.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 11, 2013 @12:59PM (#44252321)

    That guy piloting it: same guy who flew the human powered flapping wing aircraft: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E77j1imdhQ

    • As someone who has started learning about power and cycling - this was a job for an cat 1 / "elite" racer, or at least someone significantly lighter than the guy in the video. I ride pretty regularly but not competitively, and I'm able to do about 300W for a minute. That's piddlesticks in the world of racing, for my weight.

      A sprinter would be able to put out massive power (probably 5-7 times what I can do) but sprinters also tend to be heavy. Someone who isn't a sprinter would have less power, but could wei

      • by Splab (574204)

        How many sprints have you seen that took 64 seconds?

      • As someone who has started learning about power and cycling - this was a job for an cat 1 / "elite" racer, or at least someone significantly lighter than the guy in the video. I ride pretty regularly but not competitively, and I'm able to do about 300W for a minute.

        I can't find it now but a girl was the first to make a record - linked from the end of the video; also from those links 3 different guys 1 crash
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emK-qIbuJ-k [youtube.com] so a lot of peddlers (?).

        I'm wondering how much of a warmup he did - in order to do an effort like that, you really do need to be properly warmed up.

        Not an answer but an indication (also linked from the end of the http://www.aerovelo.com/ [aerovelo.com] video)
        From the description http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Q2Njtel-Es0#at=177 [youtube.com] [youtube.com]

        "The one-minute power test is meant to simulate the flight of the Atlas helicopter, which s

        • by adolf (21054)

          773 Watt average for the minute power test

          That's more than 1 horsepower, on average, for sixty seconds.

          (I'm sure his lady-friends enjoy his, uh, company.)

  • by Covalent (1001277) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @01:02PM (#44252371)
    Human-powered flight is unlikely to ever be a real player (look how hard he has to pedal just to stay 10 feet off the ground for a minute!)

    However, the engineering and material science that was used to make this possible could easily translate into lighter helicopters, electric vehicles, drones, you name it.

    Just as flying solo across the Atlantic wasn't really something anybody did much after Lindbergh, neither will anybody do much human helicoptering (?) But the fact that it can be done will help humanity long term. Well done!
  • I realize this is probably supposed to stay "human powered" but why not improve with ambient energy as well. As slow as those rotors are turning, a solar power assisted setup might alleviate some of the grueling pedaling you have to do. Though I do suppose batteries bear weight but I wonder what the trade off is for battery weight versus lift it can supply.
    • by PRMan (959735)
      I can assure you that the weight of the batteries would negate most of the advantage in flying.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        a quick search yields the following:

        avg human can produce 7200 Joules of energy in an hour (at 200 Watts per second)...surely this athlete is above that...but Lithium Ion batteries can store 460000 Joules per Kilogram.

        even if he produces 40 times the average human (questionable) , a single Kg battery could store more energy...right? coupled with some solar trickle-chargers, i'd love to see an energy system applied to such a beautiful machine.

        or are my thoughts way off track?

        • avg human can produce 7200 Joules of energy in an hour (at 200 Watts per second)

          Watts are already "per second" - a Watt is one joule per second, so a human could generate 720,000 Joules in an hour - right?

        • by wagnerrp (1305589)

          at 200 Watts per second

          A quick read yields the following:

          You don't know much about physics or units of measurement.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      With the surface area of those rotors gathering solar power (even when not flying) this could be a good combo for solar/human powered device.
  • The efforts of Aerovolo are laudable! The video is simply amazing and they deserve that prize win. As technology improves and knowledge gains are made, this may be one day practical.
    • by wagnerrp (1305589)
      Nope. Human powered flight will never be practical. We simply don't have the power output to function usefully as motors. World class bicyclists are good for about half a horsepower in a sprint, and maybe a third of a horsepower for sustained output. Your average handheld drill is more powerful.
  • by r2kordmaa (1163933) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @01:32PM (#44252767)
    This could go into guiness records, on more grounds than one. What i dont quite see is how this thing is stabilized, there must be more than steampunk behind the scenes.
    • I think leaning is at least part of the steering. At one point in the video, he's clearly leaning to the viewer's left.
      • Likely from huge effort, no amount of leaning will stabilise something like this. Little disturbances in air, variations in rotor profile, imperfections in transmissions, quaqcopters are notoriously unstable. If you take the electronic stabilisation out of quadcopter(the regular electric kind) its basically uncontrollable.
  • Why would they use a pedaling mechanism instead of a rowing mechanism? With a rowing mechanism he can deliver the same power with much less effort, or much higher power with the same effort. The operator can exert a large amount of force using his upper body, but he's just sitting there relaxing and letting his legs do all the work.

    • Why would they use a pedaling mechanism instead of a rowing mechanism?

      It looks like it's hard enough already to stay nearly stationary.

    • It may be that rowing would make control more difficult, since the pilot's center of gravity would be constantly shifting.
    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Because the rowing motion is much more efficient in the pull than the push. That would cause the energy input to vary greatly. over a longer period. A cycling mechanism is much higher frequency and, other that dead top and dead bottom, there relatively stable energy input.

  • I can see that the pilot/prime mover stays within the 10m×10m box, but the vehicle won't even fit in a box that size at rest.
    • by Rudisaurus (675580) on Thursday July 11, 2013 @04:40PM (#44254855)
      The AHS publication of the Sikorsky prize regulations, Flight Requirements 4.4.3 [vtol.org], states that "a reference point on the non-rotating part of the machine will be established as a means whereby the observers can judge that the machine stayed within the confines of the 10-meter square", thereby clearly indicating that one point on the machine must remain within a 10 m x 10 m square, not the entire machine.
      • by Beorytis (1014777)
        IOW, the intent was not to require a human-scale machine, merely one whose horizontal movement can be controlled to this extent.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Congrats to Cam, Todd, et al. Terrific job! You guys have poured your hearts and souls into these projects, glad to see it paying off ^__^

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