know you've had one to many beers when you're at your favorite sports
arena and witness bulbous transparent fish swimming through the air
overhead. Except, your eyes might not be
deceiving you; you might merely be witnessing a bizarre new cutting
edge technology.Scientists at the EMPA
in Dübendorf, Switzerland, the Swiss federal laboratories for
materials testing and research, have combined polymer muscles and an
8-meter helium-filled blimp to form the Airfish.Christa Jordi
describes, "We needed to mimic a fish that's a versatile
swimmer, not one that's a specialist in fast acceleration or high
maneuverability. So we chose the rainbow trout because it is a
bit of a generalist."Jordi's team uses an acrylic
polymer with carbon electrodes to create the fish's "muscle."
When a strong voltage is applied to the electrodes an electrical
field is generated creating compression of the polymer.
"Muscles" in the main body and tail yield a fluid
swishing motion. Power is provided by lithium ion batteries
in the gondola (underbody).The resulting movement slowly
propels the Airfish along at a rate of half a meter per second.
Jordi comments, "That's a slow walking speed. And it's
interesting because you might think that all its speed comes from the
undulating body – but we showed that's not the case by running the
body and tail alone and then together."The current
generation muscles wear out after a couple of months. The
researchers are considering a next-gen design of silicone with silver
electrodes as a hardier replacement. The researchers believe
that an improved version of the Airfish might be ideal for sporting
or music events due to the fact that its cleaner and doesn't make
much noise.Industry veterans aren't convinced, though.
Dan Speers, president of Mobile Airships in Brantford, Ontario -- a
Canadian supplier of blimps used to carry adverts or cameras at
outdoor music events -- comments, "It is a very elegant-looking
airship, with a great aerodynamic shape. Using a system that
does not require gasoline is always a plus, as it cuts down on air
and noise pollution. [However, in] an arena or stadium-like setting,
there are other confounding factors that need to be addressed –
such as wind currents."There's no word yet about whether
the Swiss might be eyeing other uses -- such as military surveillance
applications. The U.S. military and its contractors have been
awfully fond of airships lately, with E-Green
Technology and Lockheed
Martin both pitching designs to the military's top brass.
quote: The U.S. military and its contractors have been awfully fond of airships lately, with E-Green Technology and Lockheed Martin both pitching designs to the military's top brass.