“B” The Flying Car: I Don’t Know What This is for But I Want One!

Another great Kickstarter project, and this time it’s the brainchild of Witold Mielniczek a Ph.D. Student at Southampton University. “B” is a remote controlled car that turns into a VTOL aircraft for short flights enabling it to traverse difficult terrain with ease. The vehicle transitions pretty seamlessly from driving to flying as the video shows.

The body is made out of polycarbonate and is extremely tough. The wheels have been designed to compress and detach on heavy impacts so that they vehicle is very robust, ideal for the beginner radio control enthusiast. “B” also has a video camera build in so you can get a birds eye view of the vehicles journey. Mielniczek has further development plans including:

  • Support for water landings and a reverse periscope to look beneath the surface
  • The ability to suck to walls allowing vertical ascents
  • Controling “B” from your smart phone using an App

The drive system is currently in the patent process and according to Mielniczek:

“The patentable aspect of the design is called PDU (Propelling Driving Unit). The patentable mechanism can be briefly described as any part of the propeller going through the vertical plane of the driving ring (such as a wheel or a caterpillar track).”

The “B” is shaping up to be a particularly cool toy purchasable through the kickstarter project for a paltry £320. A bargain at twice the price. However, Mielniczek has bigger plans and is suggesting that his design could be scaled to provide an extreme sports vehicle for the adrenalin junkies amongst us or a rescue vehicle for crossing terrain inaccessible to more traditional forms of transport. Currently the only limitation is the relatively small duration of play with one charge only lasting around 15 minutes.

Given the speed at which “B” has achieved its funding target on Kickstarter we can expect to see more of Mielniczek and his flying cars in the future!

Colossus Could Look For Extra Terrestrial Civilisations (ETCs)

Colossus Could Look For Extra Terrestrial Civilisations (ETCs)

Ever since we realised that space travel was possible mankind has been intrigued by what has become known as the Fermi paradox. In 1950 Enrico Fermi posed the question in an informal discussion on the subject of extra terrestrial civilisations (ETCs) “If they exist, where are they?”. To bring this a little more into today’s context, we now know that rather than being an exception, planetary solar systems seem to be the norm in our neighbourhood.

To date 891 extra solar planets have been discovered including 262 that might be habitable. Planets are identified by looking at the light from a star and searching for transits or more specifically, the dimming of a star caused by a planet passing in front of it from our viewpoint.

So if there are all these potentially inhabitable planets out there in our galactic neighbourhood, why hasn’t anyone come to see us or at least said “Hi!”?

Until now The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project has looked for ETCs using radio telescopes. Other than the now famous “Wow!” signal picked up in 1977 by the Big Ear Radio Telescope at Ohio State University, we haven’t heard a peep out of E.T. However, radio frequencies may not be a great way to look for ETCs. We assume that because we use radio frequencies to communicate then CETs would as well. This may be entirely erroneous for a couple of reasons:

– Radio frequencies travel at the speed of light and as such, aren’t a great method for communicating over stellar distances because a signal from the nearest star other than our Sun would take years to arrive.

– Civilisations may only use radio frequency communication for a very short time during their technological development. The chances of us just happening on that period in history during which they’re using that form of communication are probably infinitesimally small.

The Colossus telescope is interesting because it will look for variations in the infrared spectrum which indicate the thermal signature of a civilisation. In other words, people use power and this power can be seen from space as heat. The problem is that this thermal signature is really hard to pick out with current technology because the heat of the host star tends to mask it. Build a big enough telescope with powerful enough optics and some very clever software and you can disentangle the planet’s thermal signature from that of its host star. If a planet has an unusually high thermal signature it’s good evidence that an ETC may exist on its surface. As the technology progresses we might even be able to see the distribution of heat across the planet’s surface.

The only snag is that building a football sized telescope costs quite a bit of money…around a billion US dollars. So whether Colossus ever gets enough funding remains to be seen. If it is ever built though, the resulting data could at last provide us with evidence as to whether or not we’re alone in the cosmos.