Human-powered helicopter wins Sikorsky prize

Jul 12, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan
This undated photo courtesy of AHS InternationalAeroVelo, Inc shows AeroVelo's winning flight of the Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition. The Canadian-built helicopter that is powered by a human riding a bicycle has become the first winner of a decades-old $250,000 engineering prize, the US awarder said Friday.

A Canadian-built helicopter that is powered by a human riding a bicycle has become the first winner of a decades-old $250,000 engineering prize, the US awarder said Friday.

The American Helicopter Society had never given out its Igor Sikorsky Human-Powered Helicopter Award—initiated 33 years ago—until the team from the University of Toronto snatched it this week.

The challenge was to create a flying machine that would be able to reach a height of three meters (yards), fly for 30 seconds by human power alone, and stay in a 10 by 10 meter area.

"It was long seen as impossible to win this," AHS International executive director Mike Hirschberg told AFP.

The winning vehicle is called the Atlas, and was designed by a team of about 20 students and young professionals.

The aircraft is extremely light—just 121.4 pounds (55 kilograms)—but it spans a sprawling 162 feet (49.4 meters).

"This is not about creating a practical machine," said Hirschberg.

"This is to set a challenge for young engineers, to harness their creativity and technical skills and to experience working as a team against really, extremely challenging requirements," he added.

"It is sort of like climbing Mount Everest for the first time—to prove it can be done."

The winning June 13 flight was pedaled by team leader Todd Reichert, 31, an expert and competitive speed skater.

Reichert is chief aerodynamicist at a company called AeroVelo, which was created by the students in their mission to win the competition's cash.

AeroVelo co-founder Cameron Robertson, 26, said the aircraft is designed to be ridden by someone 160 pounds or less.

It also requires a fairly strong pedaler, requiring about one horsepower to operate, when the average person could probably manage a half horsepower, he said.

Robertson said the team was motivated by the prospect of "showing people that impossible is nothing."

The $250,000 prize, which was formally awarded Thursday after about a month of technical review of the winning flight, was also a key factor.

Winning it will allow the team to invest more in AeroVelo and support research with the current crop of University of Toronto engineering students, Robertson said.

"We are not rich but it will enable us and the students with us to continue doing what we love doing," he said.

The prize is named for Igor Sikorsky, a Russian born engineer and pilot who came to America in 1919 and in 1939 designed and flew the first successful single main rotor helicopter in the world.

The amount was set at $10,000 when the award was initiated in 1980 and was soon raised to $25,000.

But no-one ever won, and the program stagnated through much of the 1990s and 2000s until Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation agreed in 2009 to raise the amount to $250,000.

"That quarter of a million dollars absolutely brought out some of the best innovators and the best talents in tackling this challenge," said Hirschberg.

The first prize attempt at a was by California Polytechnic State University, which flew its craft for 8.6 seconds at a height of eight inches off the ground in 1989, according to AHS.

A team from Nihon University in Japan set the endurance record for the with almost 20 seconds in 1994.

For the winning University of Toronto AeroVelo team, Robertson said the next lofty challenge is building an extremely lightweight bicycle that can reach human-pedaled speeds of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour).

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User comments : 18

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betterexists
1 / 5 (8) Jul 12, 2013
I think it is duty of a Robot. What are they for? To drink Soda and Relax?
http://www.youtub...q10EQkog
betterexists
1 / 5 (8) Jul 12, 2013
They can then ask the Robot to fly people shore to shore across water tanks OR even across small lakes!
Neinsense99
1.6 / 5 (12) Jul 12, 2013
Most streets in Toronto were small lakes and rivers last week, due to more than a month of rain in one afternoon. Perhaps the breeze could help dry someone's front yard.
lengould100
5 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2013
Congrats U of T guys!
dedereu
1 / 5 (7) Jul 13, 2013
Incredible performance of creativity and sportivity for an impossibility : one horsepower !!!
Shabs42
1 / 5 (1) Jul 13, 2013
reach a height of three meters (yards)


Really phys.org? Don't think we can handle the 1.1x conversion?
Eikka
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 13, 2013
Really phys.org? Don't think we can handle the 1.1x conversion?


When a figure is expressed in single digits, the precision of the converted figure is in the single digits as well.

I.E. 3.0 meters is 3.3 yards, and 3 meters is 3 yards, because you round it to the same precision as the number you start with. After all, the original figure itself is not exact: it might be rounded up or down from some other number, so there's already some uncertainty there.

For example, if something is measured in full inches with no fractions, the uncertainty of that number is pretty much plus minus 1.27 cm or half an inch, so when you convert that number into metric, there's no point in writing it down to the millimeter, because the source number is not that precise.

Eikka
1 / 5 (5) Jul 13, 2013
Of course you have to mind that the rounding convention is only for illustration purposes and for final results. If you read some construction diagram and subsitute 3 cm where they forgot to write 1.0 inches, you'll mess it up.

But that's pretty much the gist of it. If you mean precisely 1 inches to within a tenth, you write 1.0 inches, or 1.00 to within a hundreth. Otherwise it means "about 1 inches".
antonima
1 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2013
Why not put a trained monkey in the machine? Monkeys are 4 times stronger then men and they weigh less too.
Neinsense99
1.7 / 5 (10) Jul 14, 2013
Why not put a trained monkey in the machine? Monkeys are 4 times stronger then men and they weigh less too.

Define your terms. Four times stronger how? In what motion, or what body part? Per unit of weight or overall? You also haven't specified a species of monkey.
Moreover, monkeys won't be sufficiently motivated by $250,000, even converted to banana currency. It's also likely that the rules specify that it must be HUMAN-powered contraption, or powered by a human during any prize-winning flight.
Neinsense99
1.7 / 5 (10) Jul 14, 2013
Most streets in Toronto were small lakes and rivers last week, due to more than a month of rain in one afternoon. Perhaps the breeze could help dry someone's front yard.

I wasn't denigrating their considerable achievement. Rather, I was commenting more on the severity of the flooding there and trying to picture an actual use for the device, aside from a very space-inefficient cyclist conditioner. I'm sure there will be some interesting spin-offs and boosts to engineering careers.
jtreal
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2013
The challenge was to create a flying machine that would be able to reach a height of three meters (yards), fly for 30 seconds by human power alone, and stay in a 10 by 10 meter area.

Therefore the wings should not exceed the confines of the set area 10x10. They flexed the rules on this and it strikes me as the opposite of innovation.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (8) Jul 17, 2013
Telekinetic 3 / 5 (4) Jun 21, 2012

"But unless we enhance human power in some way it probably won't be really useful."- Foundation

"By exercising, one can build muscle mass that will enhance human power and overall health- and an effective exercise is pedaling a human-powered helicopter! I think the solution lies in improvements of prop and continually variable transmission design. Next year, they may very well take the prize".-Telekinetic

I should win a prize for prescience.

Eikka
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 18, 2013
I should win a prize for prescience.


Or pointing out the blatantly obvious.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (7) Jul 18, 2013
I should win a prize for prescience.


Or pointing out the blatantly obvious.

How do you get from "Impossible!" to blatantly obvious? By being a Monday Morning Quarterback, Eikka.
Eikka
1 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
How do you get from "Impossible!" to blatantly obvious?


Because it was never impossible. It was always just a question of getting the weight of the thing and the aerodynamic drag down to the point that a human can feasibly pedal it. The limitations were known, and the parameters for a successful flight were known beforehand.

After all, people had demonstrated several working prototypes before that just didn't quite reach the required height or time because of these constraints. It was never a question of "can it fly?", but "how to make it fly better".

And if they'd put Lance Armstrong in it, even some of the worse prototypes probably would have won.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (7) Jul 19, 2013
Yeah, Lance Armstrong could make a DeSoto fly.
Eikka
1.4 / 5 (5) Jul 19, 2013
Sustained flight on this craft would require it to be ridden by Lance Armstrong anyways, because the required power output is about 730 Watts. That is also largely the reason why they managed to do it this time: they used a stronger cyclist.

The average cyclist can sustain an output of approximately 3 Watts per kg of body weight, which means a 160 pound pilot could only manage 220 Watts. The rate is largely determined by how fast your metabolism can supply energy to the muscles,, which themselves have only small stores of energy in the form of glycogen.

It would be a bugger to "bonk" out right when you're hovering 30 feet up in the air.