“Verrückt” is the German word for “insane”. It is a fitting name for the world’s tallest waterslide, which was just opened to the public at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.
At 168 feet and 7 inches, the Verrückt is taller than Niagara Falls. To get the top you have to climb 268 stairs.
John Schooley was the engineer who designed the slide. Here he is talking about when he and park founder Jeff Henry came up with the idea:
“Basically, we were crazy enough to try anything. We decided to design something entirely new, because we decided to put a three or four man boat down it, and we wanted not only the fastest and steepest water slide going downhill, but we wanted to take it uphill over a hump, to give people a weightless experience going down the other side.”
Schooley was also the first to test out the slide, along with another one of the slide’s engineers. Speaking later about the experience he said, “I was terrified.” Check out video of that first test run below:
That second hill is one of the coolest features of the slide. Because of the speed and momentum you build up going down the first slope (you drop 17 stories in 4 seconds), G-force can feel up to 5 times greater than normal as you travel up the second hump.
G-force is defined as a measurement of acceleration felt as weight. Basically, it’s the perceived increase in gravity you feel because of the fact that you’re accelerating. G-force is what pushes you back into your seat as a plane takes off, for example.
So, when you reach the top of that hump and begin the second drop, you go from feeling like gravity is 5x stronger than normal (5 Gs) to feeling weightless in a split-second. It’s not unlike what astronauts experience when they leave Earth’s atmosphere (although the G-force they feel is many times higher).
The slide was opened to the public this past Friday. Here’s what it looks like to to ride the Verrückt as a member of the public. Garmin VIRB sports camera technology allows you to track speed and heart-rate as you watch:
In 1996, Phillip Weicker and Duncan Forster were engineering undergraduates at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
The pair lived at a student house with a number of other guys. One of the subletters at the house skipped out on his rent and abandoned his 1982 Chevy Malibu at the house.
The rest of the guys at the house were discussing what to do with the car over a keg. They didn’t want to pay someone to haul it off so they decided they were going to cut the roof off and turn it into a fully-functional and drivable hot tub car.
Though at first they didn’t think the idea would actually become reality, Weicker says they were inspired by an Ernest Hemingway quote:
“Always do sober what you say you’d do drunk, that’s the only way you’ll learn.”
The next day, people started showing up with tools, and before long, they had built themselves a 1982 hot tub edition Malibu.
Weicker says after that, the legend took off. The car could be found,
“…parked at parties on and off campus, in the end-zone of the homecoming game, anywhere that good times were being had.”
The car was also one of the prize exhibits at the Canadian International Auto Show in 2001. While there, Weicker and Forster were approached by the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), the official group in charge of keeping land-speed records.
They invited the duo to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah later that year, telling them that if they ran the course, the SCTA would grant them the land speed record for the “World’s Fastest Hot Tub”.
Unfortunately, time was beginning to take its toll on the Malibu. The students were creative and resourceful, but the hot tub car had not been designed to last long-term.
By 2004, time and “undergraduate plumbing” had destroyed the car’s chassis, and it was unable to make the trip to Utah, denying Weicker and Forster their record.
After a number of false starts, the duo was finally able to put together a good team of engineers in 2008 while living on the West Coast. They purchased a 1969 Cadillac Deville to build their new hot tub car.
For the last six years, the team has been preparing the vehicle, working closely with the SCTA to make sure it abides by their strict safety standards. Now, it’s almost ready for its moment in the spotlight.
The designers made the short video below to explain how the “Carpool Deville” works and to promote their Kickstarter campaign:
The first speed records were set at the Bonneville Salt Flats back in 1914- this year marks the 100th anniversary of that historic event.
Weicker pays homage to Bonneville’s storied history on a Kickstarter page launched to help fund the project:
“The Salt has seen its share of streamliners, speedster motorcycles, vehicles powered by electricity, fuel cells, rockets and jet engines. But it’s never seen anything quite like this. Nobody’s ever gone a hundred miles an hour in an open-air self propelled hot tub while sitting neck deep in soothing warm water. We aim to correct that mistake of history this August.”
You can check out the Carpool Deville’s Kickstarter page to learn more about the project and/or help fund it. Though the campaign has already hit its goal of $10,000, some of the excess donations will be used to help pay for current McMaster students to attend the event, “because really, this is about the future”.
You can check out more pictures of the car and learn about the construction process below:
“Install enormous steel reinforcements designed to support thousands of pounds of water.”
“Using plywood, make a mock tub in the car’s interior. Try not to glue your fingers together more than fifteen times.”
“Using medium density fibreboard (MDF), make a negative tub mold. Sand for what seems like a million days. Spray many gallons of noxious chemicals onto it to make it smooth and shiny.”
“Lay up fibreglass onto the mold to create the custom tub.”
“Separate from the mold using compressed air.
“Drop it into the passenger compartment.”
“Get 472 cubic inches to play nicely together.”
“Drop body on frame like they did back in Detroit.”
“Park some heat exchangers in the passsenger’s foot well to heat the water in the tub using the engine.”
Alan Turing was a code-breaker in World War II who became a pioneer in the field of computer science after the war ended. In 1950, he theorized that if a machine could be designed that was indistinguishable from a real man, it would be proof that the machine was actually thinking.
To carry out the test, human participants have five-minute conversations with a machine, and afterwards are asked whether they thought there was a robot or a real human on the other end. Despite the fact that the test only requires the computer to fool 30% of the human subjects, no computer had ever succeeded.
That is until last Saturday, when a machine known as “Eugene Goostman” convinced 33% of test subjects that it was a real 13-year old boy.
The machine was tested along with 4 others at London’s Royal Society last Saturday on the 60th anniversary of Turing’s death.
Professor Kevin Warwick is a professor of cybernetics at the University of Reading. He had this to say about the result of the recent Turing Test:
“In the field of artificial intelligence there is no more iconic and controversial milestone than the Turing Test… It is fitting that such an important landmark has been reached at the Royal Society in London, the home of British science and the scene of many great advances in human understanding over the centuries. This milestone will go down in history as one of the most exciting.”
The machine was designed by the duo of Vladimir Veselov, who was born in Russia but now lives in the United States, and Eugene Demchenko, who was born in Ukraine but now lives in Russia.
Though there have been a handful of claims of machines passing the test before, Professor Warwick points out that none of these tests proved to be “true” Turing tests:
“A true Turing Test does not set the questions or topics prior to the conversations. We are therefore proud to declare that Alan Turing’s test was passed for the first time.”
I wouldn’t say that this is proof that Eugene Goostman was actually thinking (as hypothesized by Turing), but regardless, it is a huge step for the fields of computer science and artificial intelligence.
Google has created a lunar landing competition for private teams and/or companies to compete in. The competition, known as the “Google Lunar XPRIZE“, is offering successful participants over $30 million and is being called the “largest international incentive based prize of all time”.
In order to win the prize, a team or company must fist safely land their craft on the surface of the Moon. Then, the craft must travel above, below, or across the moon’s surface for at least 500 meters.
Finally, it must send back at least two “Mooncasts” (a video transmitted live from the lunar surface) for viewers on Earth. All of these tasks must be completed by December 31, 2015.
Google obviously has a financial stake in the $30 million competition, whether it be for publicity, marketing, branding or whatever else, but these are not Google’s only motivations. According to Google Lunar XPRIZE’s official website, the competition also hopes to,
“…create a new “Apollo” moment for this generation and to spur continuous lunar exploration,”
referring to the Apollo 11 mission, which put man on the moon for the first time. The website also points out that,
“More than half of the world’s population has never had the opportunity to view a live transmission from the lunar surface.”
Google Lunar XPRIZE is offering a grand prize of $20 million for the first place winner, but teams will also be competing for bonus prizes throughout the competition by completing specific terrestrial or in-space milestones.
Offering these milestone prizes and extra bonuses helps to encourage teams to continue to compete and innovate for the entirety of the competition, since it gives them the opportunity to obtain a return on their investments even if they don’t ultimately win the grand prize.
Also, the competition will be great publicity for any up-and-coming aerospace and robotics engineers or companies taking part.
Check out the video below to learn a little bit more about Google Lunar XPRIZE…
The teams competing have come from all over the world, and range from groups of college kids to sophisticated engineering and technology companies.
Teams had to register in 2010 and meet specific requirements to be eligible. The count started with 33 qualified teams, but is now down to just 18.
Hopefully one or even several of these teams will soon be opening new doors to the moon.
Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke are leading a team of researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM), with the goal of creating an aircraft that can be controlled by thought alone.
To do this, the team created a highly specialized helmet covered in electroencephalography electrodes, which are able to record the electrical impulses that come from our brain. These signals are then translated into flight commands using a complex computer algorithm created by scientists at the Berlin Institute of Technology.
A team from the University of Minnesota recently used similar technology to create thought-controlled drones. Check out the video below to see them being tested out.
The idea seems outlandish, but the concept has already been proven to be realistic. The new technology was tested on seven volunteers with varying levels of flight experience (one had no flight experience at all).
Though they were tested on flight simulators, which lack some of the real-life conditions of flight, even the subjects with little to no experience were able to fly well enough to partially fulfill some of the requirements of the actual pilot’s license test. Some of the subjects were even able to land their simulator aircraft in conditions of low visibility.
Fricke’s goal is to make flight more accessible while also creating a safer, more relaxed flying experience:
“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people… With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.”
Fricke and his team still have a number of issues to figure out though. In real flight, for example, pilots feel wind resistance while steering, and if the wind load is significant, pilots have to actually use physical force to maintain smooth navigation. The researchers have not yet figured out how to solve this problem.
Also, no word yet on what happens if you start obsessively worrying about crashing while operating the thought-guided aircraft. Hopefully they’ll look into that as well.
BONUS: The Technische Universität München (TUM), or Technical University of München, has one of the coolest interiors ever, including slides that you can take to get from upper floors back down to the ground floor.
Engineering couple Julie and Scott Brusaw invented “Solar Freakin’ Roadways” in 2006, and have been helping lead the Solar Roadway campaign since.
Check out the Solar Freakin’ Roadway’s video below and see what these futuristic roadways look like and how they work.
Solar Freakin’ Roadway’s hexagon-shaped solar panels can be used not only to collect solar power, but also to light highways and even melt snow and ice. What’s more, the Brusaws claim that their solar roadways have the potential to cut greenhouse gases by up to 75%!
As the designers point out in the video, these solar panels are not just for roads and highways- they can also be used for parking lots, playgrounds, and pretty much anywhere there’s asphalt. Imagine a world where these were everywhere: we’d be producing huge amounts of clean energy and frankly, it’d look pretty sweet!
These solar panels are rapidly gaining attention and leading a movement encouraging the use of Solar Roadways in hopes of making our planet a healthier place to live.
To learn more and/or help fund the project check out Solar Roadways Indiegogo page here.
The mission statement on Aerofex’s website says that their goal is to “democratize flight”. To accomplish that goal, the California-based company has designed a line of crafts that fuse the ducted rotor design of hovercrafts with the easy maneuverability of a motorcycle or ATV.
The vehicle, known as the Aero-X, is able to travel at speeds of 45 mph while hovering up to 3.7 meters (12.1 feet) above the ground, allowing riders to travel with speed and comfort over rougher, unpaved terrain.
Aerofex faced a number of problems when trying to design a craft that could easily be operated by people with little to no flight experience. Here’s Mark De Roche, chief technology officer and founder of Aerofex:
“We’ve done a lot of work to learn how to remove the coupling effect. That’s the key for someone who only has motorcycle experience to be able to get on it and feel comfortable right away.”
De Roche is referring to the phenomenon that sometimes occurs with open rotor vehicles like helicopters: when a pilot pushes the thrust forward to accelerate, the aerodynamics of the spinning rotor causes the craft to pitch slightly left as well.
The Aero-X was able to solve this problem, creating a craft that can be easily maneuvered using motorcycle-like handlebars. A “knee-bar” detects which direction the pilot leans in: leaning forward moves the craft forward and leaning back slows it down.
The video below shows early tests of the Aero-X prototype.
While the product is still in the development stages, De Roche predicts that the version that hits markets in 2017 will be able to carry over 300 pounds and run for around 75 minutes on a full tank of gas.
The price tag is set at $85,000, and if you’re willing to thrown down $5,000 right now you can reserve one.
Here are a few concept images of what the Aero-X will look like when development is complete. Click an image to enlarge.