$10 000 Physics Wager Settles The Debate On Sailing Downwind Faster Than The Wind

By now, many of you have seen the video of [Rick Cavallaro]’s Blackbird, the controversial wind-powered land vehicle that can outrun the wind. The video has led to a high-profile $10 000 wager between [Derek Muller] aka [Veritasium] and [Alex Kusenko], a professor of physics from UCLA. [Veritasium] won the wager with the help of a scale model built by [Xyla Foxlin], and you need to watch the videos after the break for some excellent lessons in physics, engineering, and civilized debate.

After seeing [Veritasium]’s video on Blackbird, [Professor Kusenko] contacted him and said the performance claims and explanation were incorrect. After a bit of debate [Veritasium] proposed a wager on the matter, which [Professor Kusenko] accepted, and it was made official with a written agreement witnessed by [Neil deGrasse Tyson], [Bill Nye], and [Sean Carrol]. From the start, it was agreed that the entire debate would be made public.

[Professor Kusenko] made a very thorough and convincing argument, backed by calculations, against the claims in the video. He claimed the observations were due to a combination of gusty winds, a vertical wind gradient. He was convinced and that the vehicle would not be able to maintain a speed higher than the wind, directly downwind. By [Veritasium]’s own admittance, his original video could have contained more details and proof of performance claims of the Blackbird vehicle. He added these to the latest video and included two model demonstrations. The model that brought the concept home for us is at 13:46 in the video, and substitutes the propeller for a large wheel being driven by a piece of lumber being bushed across it. The second model, built by [Xyla Foxlin] was designed to demonstrate the concept on a treadmill. The 4th version of [Xyla]’s model was the first to be successful after she found out from [Rick Cavallaro] that the key design detail is the Vehicle Speed Ratio, which must be 0.7 or less. It is the pitch of the propeller divided by the circumference of the driven wheel, assuming a 1:1 gear ratio. All the 3D files and details are available if you want to build your own downwind cart. Continue reading “$10 000 Physics Wager Settles The Debate On Sailing Downwind Faster Than The Wind”

Sailing Faster Than The Wind Itself

If you search the outer reaches of the internet you will find all sorts of web sites and videos purporting to answer to free energy in the form of perpetual motion machines and other fantastical structures that bend the laws of physics to breaking point. We’d love them to be true but we have [Émilie du Châtelet] and her law of conservation of energy to thank for dashing those hopes. So when along comes a machine that appears to violate a fundamental Law of Physics, it’s reasonably met with skepticism. But the wind-powered vehicle built by [Rick Cavallaro] looks as though it might just achieve that which was previously thought impossible. It’s a machine that can move with the wind at a speed faster than the wind itself.

A fundamental law of sailing boats is that when they are sailing with the wind, i.e. in the same direction as the wind, they can’t sail faster than the wind itself. Sailing boats can go faster than the wind powering them by sailing across it at an angle to create lift from their sails, but this effect doesn’t work as the angle tends towards that of the wind.

The vehicle in the video below the break is a sleek and lightweight machine with a large propeller above it, which we are told is not the windmill power source we might imagine it to be. Instead it mimics the effect of a pair of sailing boats sailing across the wind in a spiral around a long cylinder, and thus becomes in effect a fan when turned by the motoin in the craft’s wheels. The drive comes from the wind working on the craft itself, and thus as can be seen from the motion of a streamer on its front, it can overtake the wind. It seems too good to be true at first sight but the explanation holds water. Now we want a ride too!

For fairly obvious reasons, the fantastical world of pseudo-physics isn’t our bag here at Hackaday. But if something might hold promise we’ll at least give it a look. Not all such things we cover turn out to change those Laws of Physics, though.

Continue reading “Sailing Faster Than The Wind Itself”