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Hitting the Books: Imagine if ‘Up’ but pigeons?

We all have those thoughts, those that arrived at us in the tiny hours of the night time. Who am I? Why are we here? Imagine if my cellphone ran on vacuum tubes instead? Randall Munroe gets the response to, well, only 1 of these questions, but additionally the answers to a lot of others collected together into IMAGINE IF? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. Yes, that is clearly a T-Rex eating an airplane. In the excerpt below Munroe examines what it could try haul the average sized human in a chair over Australia’s tallest skyscraper, only using the energy of pigeons. Lots and lots of pigeons.

What If 2 by Randall Munroe

Penguin Random House

Excerpted from IMAGINE IF? 2 by Randall Munroe. Copyright 2022 by Randall Munroe. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, NY. All rights reserved. No section of this excerpt could be reproduced or reprinted without permission on paper from the publisher.


In a 2013 study, researchers at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics led by Ting Ting Liu trained pigeons to fly up to perch while wearing a weighted harness. They discovered that the common pigeon within their study could remove and fly upward while carrying 124 grams, about 25 percent of its bodyweight.

The researchers determined that the pigeons could fly better if the weights were slung below their health, rather than on the backs, which means you may possibly want pigeons to lift your chair from above instead of support it from below.

Lets suppose your chair and harnesses weigh 5 kilograms and you also weigh 65 kilograms. In the event that you used the pigeons from the 2013 study, it could have a flock around 600 of these to lift your chair and fly upward with it.

Unfortunately, flying with lots will be a lot of work. The pigeons in the 2013 study could actually carry lots 1.4 meters upward to a perch, however they probably wouldnt have already been in a position to fly an excessive amount of greater than that. Even unencumbered pigeons can only just maintain strenuous vertical flight for a couple seconds. One 1965 study measured a climb rate of 2.5 m/s for unencumbered pigeons,* so even though were being optimistic, it appears unlikely that pigeons could lift your chair a lot more than 5 meters.

No issue, it might seem. If 600 pigeons can lift you the initial 5 meters, you then simply need to bring another 600 along, just like the second stage of a rocket, to transport you another 5 meters once the first flock gets tired. It is possible to bring another 600 for the 5 meters from then on and so forth. The Q1 is 322 meters high, so about 40,000 pigeons will be able to help you to the very best, right?

No. Theres an issue with this particular idea.

Since a pigeon can carry just a quarter of its bodyweight, it requires four flying pigeons to transport one resting pigeon. Which means each stage will require at the very least four times as much pigeons because the one above it. Lifting one individual may only take 600 pigeons, but lifting one individual and 600 resting pigeons would take another 3,000 pigeons.

This exponential growth implies that a 9-stage vehicle, in a position to lift you 45 meters, would want almost 300 million pigeons, roughly add up to the complete global population. Achieving the halfway point would require 1.6 1025 pigeons, which may weigh about 8 1024 kilogramsmore compared to the Earth itself. At that time, the pigeons wouldnt be pulled down by the Earths gravitythe Earth will be pulled up by the pigeons gravity.

The entire 65-stage craft to attain the very best of the Q1 would weigh 3.5 1046 kilograms. Thats not only more pigeons than you can find on the planet, its more mass than there’s in the galaxy.

You can make things better by reusing pigeons. In the 2013 study, the researchers gave the pigeons 30 seconds to rest on the perch before bringing them down for another trial. If each stage is two seconds, and pigeons are refreshed after 30 seconds, you can fly arbitrarily high with a 15-stage craftbut that could still require trillions of pigeons.

An improved approach may be in order to avoid carrying the pigeons with you. In the end, pigeons will get up to the very best of the skyscraper themselves, so you may aswell send them ahead to hold back for you personally there rather than having their friends carry them up with you. In the event that you could train them sufficiently, you might have them glide along at the correct height, then grab you and tug you upward for some seconds once you reach their altitude. Remember that pigeons cant grab and carry things making use of their feet, so theyd need little harnesses with aircraft-carrier-style hooks to intercept you.

With this particular arrangement, its likely you can fly you to ultimately the very best of the tower with only a few thousands of well-trained pigeons. You need to probably be sure you have some sort of safety system which will keep you from plunging to your demise whenever a falcon flies by and spooks the pigeons.

The craft wouldnt you need to be more threatening than an elevator, it could also be considered a lot harder to choose your destination. You may plan to visit the very best of the Q1, but as soon as you remove… youll be completely beneath the control of a person with a bag of seeds.

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