Aircraft

Evidence of Human Birdwings flying hoax piles up

Evidence of Human Birdwings fl...
Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video
Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video
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Inventor Jarno Smeets claims to have flown 100 meters
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Inventor Jarno Smeets claims to have flown 100 meters
CGI experts say even the people in the video were digitally inserted
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CGI experts say even the people in the video were digitally inserted
Smeets wings at rest in his workshop
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Smeets wings at rest in his workshop
A diagram of the Human Birdwings
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A diagram of the Human Birdwings
Smeets' efforts have received press attention worldwide
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Smeets' efforts have received press attention worldwide
A split-screen shot purporting to be taken from the ground and Smeets' helmet cam
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A split-screen shot purporting to be taken from the ground and Smeets' helmet cam
Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video
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Some pilots have questioned the validity of this section of video
The alleged helmet cam view
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The alleged helmet cam view
Smeets declared his apparent flight one of the best moments of his life
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Smeets declared his apparent flight one of the best moments of his life
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"Human Birdwings" creator Jarno Smeets and his Android-powered, mechanically-assisted flying machine are creating a stir again. Gizmag originally reported on Smeets' effort to fly like a bird when he posted a video of his first test flight, in which he appeared to hang in the air a few feet off the ground for a second or two. In the video of his latest attempt, he's shown soaring around in the air, and a lively debate over the validity of the video is already heating up.

Smeets claims to have flown 100 meters (328 ft) in the latest attempt, which now has over one million views in less than two days on YouTube.

His home-built "birdwings" consist of a rather ingenious combination of a large kite re-fashioned into a sort of over-sized hang glider, which is connected to a backpack harness and a central motor that actually flaps the wings. The motor takes its cue from Smeets himself, though, who flaps his arms bird-style and Android smartphones strapped to his sleeves communicate via Bluetooth with an Arduino board on the backpack that then translates the human arm flaps into flaps of the larger wing assembly.

A diagram of the Human Birdwings
A diagram of the Human Birdwings

The project has been in the works for many months now, and Smeets has documented the process thoroughly in his blog and increasingly in the media.

Even Smeets' first, and rather unimpressive, test flight was met with skepticism, but now that the latest video (you can watch it at the end of this post) seems to show him and his contraption flying around with ease, a number of sources are pronouncing the video a fraud while others still say it could be the real deal.

One Gizmodo reader who claims to be a pilot with an aeronautical engineering background commented that some things in the video just don't add up to actual flight:

"Just look at the wings. They're not showing load at any time. The fabric from the old kiteboarding kite—that's what the wings are made of—never loads up. If the wings were producing lift, the fabric would be tight, it would look like it was inflated. It never does. "

A purported hang glider and engineer also offered similar critiques, while Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters fame says he doesn't see evidence the video was faked:

"It seems reasonable to accomplish, and is something I have wanted to try for a long time. I am suspicious because there is not much detail shown of the actual machine, but that does not mean anything other than they don't show it all."

Internet marketing expert Brent Coker says that he is "85 percent sure" the viral video is a marketing ploy by one of the companies whose products are used in the project. Smeets has repeatedly pointed out that the craft is powered by a pair of HTC Wildfire smartphones and a Nintendo Wii controller.

That would be a pretty elaborate plan for the purpose of a little brand recognition, however. Over the past eight months, Dutch journalists and others have reported on Smeets' project and visited his workshop. He's also documented the painstaking process of creating the main wing itself and assembling the motors, none of which have any branding attached to them.

In another Gizmodo post, the consensus among a team of CGI experts at Industrial Light and Magic is that the video is a fake. They point to one tell-tale sign of a hoax that Gizmag readers initially pointed out in my first post about the Human Birdwings project weeks ago - a mysterious dot that suddenly appears on one side of the wings after the camera pans away and back.

Smeets' response to these claims of fakery weeks ago was that the test flight video had been cut together from multiple takes.

But the CGI crew also notes that in a much earlier video, where Smeets shows a software-created prototype 3D model, the modeling software being used is a package often used by CGI artists:

"I would think if this was the engineering vid it claims to be they would be using a 3D modeling program more suited to physics based modeling. Also the toolbar they have loaded atop the program is the 'Cloth Simulation' area of the program, which is used create such effects as fabric wings moving through air ... hmmm. This isn't 100% proof but it is strange for them to have such a detailed ANIMATED model in a CG program rather than a engineering one."

Another CGI expert weighs in, claiming that the shaky camera work is a deliberate means of being able to cover up CGI mistakes, and goes so far as to stabilize a clip to demonstrate his point. It's pretty convincing evidence that the entire thing may be a hoax, but the question remains - why?

Smeets has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Source: Human Birdwings Via:Gizmodo, Tested.com, Gizmodo follow-up, Life's Little Mysteries

Update

It would appear that the fakery has now been confirmed. Dutch CGI artist, Floris Kaayk - who was posing under the assumed identity of Jarno Smeets all along - has apparently appeared on Dutch television and confessed that the videos are the result of CGI. The TV appearance was spotted and tweeted by one Sjoerd Jan Henstra, and picked up by Gizmodo. So that's that. Hopefully.

Sources: Twitter, Gizmodo

Flying like a bird | part 14/14

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19 comments
Scion
It seems the wing span might be enough to provide lift. That is the wings seem about a similar size to a hang glider. I find it improbable that he could generate enough power to provide the air speed needed to gain lift. I don't see a combustion engine so it would be simply down to batteries and electric motors assisted by his arm flapping. His arm flapping would be vastly less powerful than leg peddling and I'm not sure there are too many cycle powered flying machines. That would mean almost all the power would come from some little electric servo motors. That seems improbable to say the least.
Mihai Pruna
fake, the gopro footage was obviously filmed from an RC plane
christopher
Well - I can't make up my mind. I'm a hang-glider and paraglider pilot, both free-flight and powered. Those wings are about 1/3rd smaller than a hang-glider. His power calcluation is wrong by one order of magnitude - he said 2000watts someplace - both my motors are 14hp (20kw) and other real electric "picolights" all use roughly that too. 20kw of motors and batteies for a 60-second flight is going to weigh 10kg bare min. Wings strong enough to hold you up are going to weigh 20kg min. He doesnt look like he's lugging 30kg of aricraft to me, and I can't see where they're supposed to be located. He doesn't have any obvious steering, and he's next to a lake - he would drown 99% for sure if he went in there. He's in a public park - that's controlled airspace almost for sure, and without any doubt it's illegal to fly anything uncertified, especially in a public place. The team ran away prior to the flight - what's with that? People are natural rubbernecks, they all want to get close - not run away... The guy is smirking prior to flight - he should be shitting himself, because he will die or be permanently crippled for life if anything goes wrong. Eye candy - who the heck beautifies experiments? His leg weirdness - I can't figure out this bit - yeah - he needs to put his legs up, and remembers to do that in-flight, but he's dangling from his back - that's going to be *hard* to accomplish, and will change the CofG so dramatically that he should stall from doing it... Still looks uber cool though. I *want* it to be real :-)
Facebook User
I loved this when I first saw it, and wanted to believe it, but there are a bunch of issues that point to this being an elaborate and very funny hoax. No-one's yet mentioned the straps holding the contraption on his back - they're just backpack straps. There's no chest-strap or leg straps like you'd see on a parachute harness. Fancy dangling off some madly flapping wings suspended from backpack straps? The tail of the craft is entirely non-functional. It just flaps in the airstream. It has no vertical rudder element, which would help to stabilise side-slip and allow the pilot to initiate turns at low speed. None of the ground crew make any reference to weather conditions, the strength or the direction of the wind. There's no windsock. Flying amongst trees as Smeets appears to do is a really bad idea, because trees cause turbulence and downdraughts. These days, everyone has a camera on their phone; If this were real, I would have expected everyone present at the launch to have made their best efforts to shoot video of the flight. Also, in the shots showing Smeets taking off, we never see the camera person located to the side who took the shot of Smeets from the side. None of these points have been made elsewhere. The comment about the wing loading in the article rings true - there just isn't enough loading on the wing to look convincing. What gives me any authority to comment on this? I'm a power-kiter who's also done a bit of parachuting and paragliding, so I'm used to looking at foil flying machines.
Mick10k
Fake, 3 reasons why: 1. 15 mph head wind used to gain flight speed. If head wind was there then where is the wind on the wings in sec 18-23 where the human is standing in pre-flight? 2. Head Cam, head shake. In sec 35-37 the head cam is not shaking matching the head shake from the ground shot. 3. 3rd camera. In sec 35, the side shot of the take-off, the camera shot starts slightly in front of the wings and continues to pan right to left to show the lift off from about 7 meters away. There is no camera in that position in sec 34.
Doad
they don't say the brand of the motors but i can identify them, one of them is a TURNIGY 50-55A and the other one looks a TGY AerodriveXp 42 SK both are Turnigy Branded motors, an internal brand of a company called Hobbyking witch is famous for their price's in the R/C model world. The video is for sure fake, no doubt,
Chichiflys
To Ben K The reason your points weren't made elsewhere is because they are weak. You say the tail is "entirely non-functional". Actually that is not true. It appears to be useful (at least potentially) but it's not needed for the straight ahead glide this guy supposedly performed. Also that it lacks a vertical component is irrelevant in this situation. Again he didn't perform any turns and thus didn't need one. Besides birds turn just fine without a "vertical" rudder per se (although their tails are quite flexible and act as a pseudo-rudder). That the ground folks didn't reference any weather...so what? Maybe they didn't tape their discussion of it. No windsock? Really? So that means this is faked. Looks like they are in a park, not too many windsocks in a park. They aren't breaking the sound barrier so not sure what you would need a windsock for, besides the wind won't vary that much for a 5 second flight. That this guy apparently did something stupid by flying close to a lake again is irrelevant to the authenticity of the video. Lots of people do less than brilliant things in real life. We don't see one of the cameras....so? Don't take my reply the wrong way. I'm not advocating whether this is real or not. But I'm just skeptical of your skepticsm. You need a better set of arguments.
Jim Lawrence
Sorry to agree with the intelligent posts above, it's a fake. Not a bad one but all the points are valid. Chief for me is the fabric of the wing never looks like it's under load, it just flaps around. Hardly enough, even if there was enough power and larger wing (it really is too small to lift him so easily), to lift much of anything. On the down stroke, the fabric sections should each show the load. They don't. It's CGI. When the guys run to the camera, which suddenly points down at the ground, then back up to the pilot about to launch, the wing looks different. I think they inserted the CGI wing in there, and the wobbly shot of the grass just before was to give him enough time to run out of the shot so they could insert the digital stuff. Many many other things just don't add up. I fly hang gliders, private aircraft, gliders etc. and this just looks wrong. Too bad, like others, I do wish it was true but you can't rewrite the laws of physics with underpowered Turnigy RC model motors, and that's too bad because wouldn't it be cool if you could? One other thing: this guy is just not a convincing actor. I look at his face as he's exulting in his "triumph". He looks like he's lying.
ikegami
Its probably real. My opinion. Some of the technical skeptics posting here appear to have art degrees.
andy007
As Daedalus constructs wings made from wax for his son, Icarus....They melt and crash and burn. Apparently "Jar-no" human flyer. The lift off is decent CGI...The R/C theories are not correct either... The motion of the cameras as if he were flapping wings distracts your eyes from noticing the tire/wheel marks on the grass... Notice when he comes in for the landing and when he touches down... They didn’t think it out too well, as the tire/wheel tracks left the grass blades pushed down...They had some test runs, to determine if they could mimic the flight. Hence the trajectory of flight is directionally matching the tracks on the grass. The tire/wheel tracks are consistent with the width of a "cherry picker"...Your standard boom lift or scissor lift can reach heights of 70 ft.. I suppose the attention to the project alone is a success.