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Da Vinci imagined a helicopter powered solely by human muscles. Now more than 500 years later, two teams are using advanced materials to try and make that dream come true. Hank and Catilin discuss these two teams and the Sikorsky Prize that they are battling for.

Then Jessi from Animal Wonders shares Seraphina the red fox!

Toronto Team

Maryland Team

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Hank: Hello and welcome to another episode of the SciShow Talk Show. Today we are joined by my friend and editor for SciShow and the SciShow Talk Show, Caitlin Hofmeister who is the person who has to cut together these multi-camera shoots.  

SciShow Talk Show, it's the part of SciShow where we talk and today we're gonna talk about some things. So this is the way that it sorta works: I don't really know what's gonna happen when I come and sit down in this chair and they bring me stuff and then I just respond. So if I'm not talking intelligently, it's because I don't know what I'm talking about.

What do you have for me today Caitlin?

Caitlin: Today I want to talk to you about flying bicycles.

Hank: Is this like E.T.?

Caitlin: Mostly it's about man-powered helicopters. People are competing, there's two teams especially right now, one in Toronto and one in Maryland, completing for the Sikorsky Prize which is $250,000 goes to the first team to make a man-powered helicopter.

Hank: These science prizes are interesting to me. And I think that they're cool.  I think that they're worthwhile. I think Google just announced some large prize for the first private company to get a robot to the moon and traverse a certain amount of distance on the moon. But at the same time, it feels a little bit like a man-made, er, man-powered helicopter is maybe a little less useful to the cause of science. I don't know though, I could be wrong.

Caitlin: That's - I think it's maybe completely not useful at all.

Hank: Okay!

Caitlin: Which is why it's kind of awesome, 'cause they're just doing it so see if they can do it.

Hank: Right. I think that it is- That is worthwhile. Just to see if you can. Was da Vinci's flying craft supposed to be man-powered?

Caitlin: I think so! And the first one was actually - The first one in like the '70s, no sorry the first one in the late '80s, was called the da Vinci because it was based off of his big-

Hank: I guess it would have to be because they did not have internal combustion engines back then.

Caitlin: It could have been some other - animal-powered.

Hank: Just birds! Lots of birds. "Look! I made my helicopter work by tying a bunch of birds to this piece of wood!"

Caitlin: Yes! They're hovering.

But like you were saying about getting the robot to traverse, like, a certain amount of area, there's a lot of really-

Hank: Right, there's rules.

Caitlin: They have to get three meters into the air and hover for 60 seconds, but they don't have to be three meters up for 60 seconds and they have to stay-

Hank: They have to get there and hover.

Caitlin: Yeah, and then hover. And they have to stay within a 10 meter square. And most of these are like-

Hank: Big

Caitlin: 10 meters across so they don't have-

Hank: Why are they so big? I guess maybe-

Caitlin: Actually, maybe they're not 10 meters across. I think they're like 10 feet across.

Hank: Yeah, still

Caitlin: No, they're a hundred feet across!

Hank: A hundred feet across! That's more than 10 meters.

Caitlin: Yeah, so they have to like - I think their center, the human-powered part has to be within that 10 meter-

Hank: But it looks like a helicopter? It has helicopter-like rotors.

Caitlin: It does. And it has four rotors and then the one in Canada is just this big beefy guy riding a bike, like this. And then the one in Maryland they, it's more like a recumbent bicycle, so they pedal with their legs and they use their arms.

Hank: Oh geez!

Caitlin: Yeah, which is ridiculous.

Hank: That sounds really exhausting to me. I mean you gotta find the right guy. It's like a jockey. You have to have some guy with just legs.

Caitlin: That's what I think too. This guy in Canada probably weighs like 160, but he's like a professional cyclist, but I am way smaller.

Hank: That's true. You are tiny.

Caitlin (mouths): Call me.

Hank: 'Cause you wanna be the first person in nine meters of air by their own power.

Caitlin: Yeah, yeah.  Three meters of air, so like 10 feet.

Hank: So, I mean, what are the obstacles that they have to overcome?  What is - What's holding them back? Why can't it happen? What have they done to make it possible thus far?

Caitlin: Mostly they can get, I think the record right now is 9.4 feet, so they're super close. And they can go over a minute, but they just can't steer them. Like they get up there and they just drift. It's so cute, because you see the pilot like not really knowing-

Hank:  'Cause you can't control it!

Caitlin: Yeah!

Hank: It has no control surfaces. It's just like, "Okay, one gear!"

Caitlin: And they've spent all this time, and it's not the smoothest landing so when it lands it's going to break a little.

Hank: I guess you only do that on a really calm day.

Caitlin: They do it inside. They all do it in indoor soccer fields and stuff, yeah.

Hank: Geez, this is complicated.

Caitlin: It is!

Hank: It's probably not super loud.

Caitlin: No.

Hank: Probably very quiet, sort of eerily even.

Caitlin: Yeah, cause they're all yelling and excited but you can't hear the machine at all. I guess this part is the machine [points to heart] but-

Hank: This part is the machine [gestures to chest]. We're quiet machines. We don't make a lot of noise in our operation, which is pretty cool. Thanks for sharing that!

Caitlin: Yeah, I have no Stump Hank for you.

Hank: You're not even going to try to stump me. I understand, it's a daunting task.

Caitlin: It is. It is.

Hank: But we are going- Do you know what kind of animal we're about to see?

Caitlin: I don't. I know all of the animals that are coming, I think.

Hank: Caitlin organized the arrival of the animals.

Caitlin: But I don't know which one I get.

Hank: She didn't get to pick. That wasn't very nice of us.

Okay, well let's be surprised.

Caitlin: Okay!

Hank: Jessi from Animal Wonders has a truly spectacular guest for us today.

Jessi: This is Seraphina and she is a red fox.

Caitlin: Hi, Seraphina.

Hank: Hi, Seraphina. You were just taking a little nap in the corner.

Jessi: Yeah, and she's gonna check things out and say, "Where am I?" Red foxes can actually come in every color. Well, not purple, but any natural color. They can be brown, they can be white, black, gray, browny-red like this, an amber color, or they can be that striking red color with the white underneath. So they can be all different colors, it's just individual-wise. And her coat's going to look a lot different in the summer than it is in the winter. Right now she has her full winter coat on. She has that huge fluffy tail, pretty typical of what you'd think a fox would look like.  But in the summer time she's going to look about half that size. Her tail's going to be, actually, pretty skinny and she's gonna lose it all so she doesn't stay so hot. You checking everything out?

Caitlin: Hi.

Hank: Yeah, who's over there?

Caitlin: Is she- she's pretty young, right?

Jessi: She's about two years old, almost two.

Hank: How, is this still puppy stage?

Jessi: Kit, yeah. She's gonna be a kit until about six months old and then she'll be considered a vixen.

Hank: Are they native to here?

Jessi: Native to here, yep. They're actually, red foxes live all over the world now. They've been introduced. They're a pretty nasty invasive species in some places.

Caitlin: Right! They're always- Everything I read about them they're always killing everybody else.

Jessi: Yeah, I know! Which is sad for them, but they're just doing their thing. They're pretty good at-

Hank: Yeah, they're good at it.

Jessi: -good at surviving.

Hank: So they were introduced for hunting? Because people wanted to hunt them?

Jessi: Sport hunting, yeah.

Hank: That's the worse reason ever.

Jessi: I know.

Hank: That's even worse than bringing in kudzu for an ornamental plant.

Caitlin: But it's kind of like great comeuppance. They're like, "You wanna hunt me? I'm just gonna kill everything else." 

Jessi: "Watch this! Look what I can do!"

Want a treat? Hi, sweetheart. There you go!. And she's eating some apple and yam. These guys are omnivores so they'll pretty much eat anything that you give them. So you notice her posturing there? She's up, her ears are erect, and she's looking at something, when she's curious about it, but when she's a little bit nervous she's gonna put her head down and she's gonna try and get a different perspective on that. She has eyes like a cat, so cats will do that too, they can kind of see vertically instead of horizontally and that's good for them hunting animals on the ground and animals up in the trees. And she's very smart. We've been working with her at Animal Wonders. She knows some fun stuff. She knows how to wave! And she knows how to dig. Oh I know, you moved that! Do you wanna dig one more time? Good job! We use these behaviors to show off what she does in the wild. If she found food in the wild, she does a circle too-

Hank: She would do a circle.

Jessi: She would do a circle! If she found too much food and she couldn't eat it all at once, she would cache it. And so she would dig a hole and she would put the food in there and she would bury it with her nose and then she would pee on it and it - in a circle, no! - she would pee on it and it would be a marker. So in the winter time when she can't find food she would just have to smell for her pee spots underneath the snow and she'd dig it up and she'd eat the food. The interesting, the really neat thing, is that she's gonna pee on it again but with a different smell of urine saying, "I've already dug this cache up."

Hank: How do you determine what your urine smells like?

Jessi: I don't know, I don't know! I'm not as talented as her.

Hank: Is it like a winter smell? Or is it like this time I'm going to pee different?

Caitlin: Or is it like old smell and slightly newer smell?

Jessi: Maybe! Maybe that's what it is.

Caitlin: She can tell how old it is.

Jessi: I'm not really sure.

Hank: I know that, I think that I'm not making this up, but we'll have to check before we put it online, but I'm pretty sure that lobsters can control the scent of their pee. And they pee through their faces, so they pee at each other to tell each other how they're feeling.

Jessi: Wow!

Hank: It's just something I know about lobsters.

Jessi: I'm glad we don't do that.

Caitlin: So if she buried a lobster, he could trick her and like spray different scented pee and get away.

Hank: Absolutely! I think that the lobster would have bigger problems.

Jessi: Being in the winter

Hank: Being buried in the snow.

Seraphina. Sera! No.

Jessi: Seraphina! She's like, "Hello, Michael Aranda!"

Hank: Seraphina, thank you for coming on the show today. I hope that you have a lovely winter. Wanna come see everybody else who's hanging out? Oh, what's that? What's that? Is that a camera?

And Jessi, thanks for bringing her in.

Jessi: Thanks for having us.

Hank: Thank you, once again, for watching this episode of SciShow Talk Show where on SciShow we talk. And thank you to Caitlin for joining us. It was a fun time.

Caitlin: Thanks! It was fun for me too.

Hank: Bye!

Caitlin: Bye!