Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Robida’

Flying In A Paddle-Propelled Blimp

September 12, 2022

This comes from Tom Scott’s channel on YouTube and it’s brilliant! as the lad character always used to shout on the Fast Show. In this video, Scott goes flying with Aeroplume, a French company provides flights from human-powered blimps. These were designed twenty or so years ago by a French artist, inventor and engineer, Jean-Pierre David. The blimps are filled with helium and the human pilot is suspended underneath in a kind of horizontal harness. There are two paddles either side of them, which allow them to propel themselves around and steer the aircraft. It apparently takes a litre of helium to lift a gram of weight, so a blimp must carry 70,000 litres or so to lift a human. Antoine Sibue, Scott’s host from the company, explains that the hangar in which the flights are performed was originally built in 1919 for the military. It passed out of military service in 1999, and a think it was acquired by Aeroplume in 2009. It’s one of two locations. The other is in a cave 50 metres underground. Flight cost 60 Euros for half an hour. The company has three such blimps, lifting 90, 70 and 45 kilos respectively. They’re also open over school holiday, which is tempting fate, one feels. Still, they have had tens of thousands of flights and zero casualties. Sibue teaches Scott how to fly the blimp, how temperature affects buoyancy and how helium leaks from the blimp so that they have to replenish it occasionally, as well as problems when the surrounding air seeps in. But it all seems safe, sedate and rather cool.

The balloon was invented in France in the late 18th century and was enthusiastically taken up by scientists and the public. It represented the victory of human scientific ingenuity over nature. And when Napoleon was invading everyone in Europe, one of his schemes was to create a military airship. However, there was no form of artificial propulsion available at the time, so the idea was to have its crew pulling on paddles rather like those on Aeroplume’s blimps.

The blimps strongly remind me of the 19th century airships depicted by some of the early pioneers of Science Fiction, such as Jacques Robida. I think the French novelist and artist would be highly amused by the way his vision has now been realised.

Steampunk Music: The Dwarven Factory

July 20, 2022

Here’s something a bit different and, hopefully, more soothing after the politics. I found a lot of Steampunk music on YouTube yesterday. Steampunk is the subgenre of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had put some of their more ambitious and far-sighted inventions into practice, and so had computers, flight, motor vehicle and space travel. It takes its inspiration from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, as well as real inventions such as Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine – a mechanical computer – and Giffard’s dirigible airship, which flew round the Eiffel Tower in 1854, as well as the futuristic drawings of the pioneering French Science Fiction writers and artist, Jacques Robida. Notable books include William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, about a Victorian future in which Lord Byron is now king and Babbage’s Difference Engine is a reality. It’s also produced a milieu of fans, who design and wear clothing based on these futures that never were, and build mock-Victorian technological props, like ray guns. One of the most popular fashion accessories is suitably elaborate, 19th century-style futuristic goggles.

But there are also composers producing works inspired by this type of SF. This seems to be orchestral, but with the addition of synthesisers and other electronic effects, often with an underlying ticking of clockwork or a beat suggesting this or the rhythm of the heavy industrial machines of the period. Its composers include Peter Crowley, who also produces more traditional fantasy music, Landon Zientara, and Shannon Chiang. I’m delighted that someone is still producing music in the classical idiom, and some of these pieces sound like the scores for SF and Fantasy films that were never made. Here’s one piece of Steampunk music, The Dwarven Factory.

Adam Savage Hitches Rickshaw to Four-Legged Spot Robot

June 21, 2020

This is another video which has absolutely nothing to do with politics, but I’m putting it up simply because it’s fun. In it, Adam Savage, the engineer and Science Fiction fan behind Mythbusters, builds a joint for Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot so he can hitch a rickshaw he built for himself to it. Boston Dynamics have developed a series of robots, some of which are humanoid and bipedal. They produced another quadrupedal robot, Big Dog, as a carrier for the American army. However, the programme was cancelled because the robot’s electric motors produced too much noise for it to be used in combat, as this would have alerted the enemy to the soldiers’ approach.

Savage says of the rickshaw he built, that it was originally going to be very brightly coloured after the Indian vehicles. When he came to build it, it became darker, and much more European so that it had a Steampunk look. Steampunk is the type of Science Fiction that imagines what would have happened if the Victorians had really developed the kind of technology in the early SF of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and had space and time travel and computers. One of the founding books of this genre was William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which is set in a Britain where Lord Byron has led a revolution and is now the head of government and Charles Babbage’s pioneering early mechanical computer, the Difference Engine of the title, has been built.

The Spot robot itself is semi-autonomous. As Savage has shown in previous videos, it can be operated by remote control. However, it recognises and avoids obstacles, and so it’s impossible to steer it into a brick wall. It will just stop, or try to go round it. When Savage and two other engineers and technicians are testing how it performs with the rickshaw attached, the robot comes to a halt on a slope. This is because it doesn’t realise that it needs to put in more power to pull the rickshaw up it, and so the two technicians work on its software so that it can correctly assess the force it needs and perform accordingly.

The robot and rickshaw together really do look like something out of Steampunk SF, or the 19th century SF art of the French author, Jacques Robida. Or even a scene from the Star Wars’ galaxy, which similarly mixes high technology – spaceships, robots and landspeeders with very low-tech forms of transport like animals. The fact that this is reality in 2020 shows that we are living in an age of SF.