Pretty much any man-made flying contraption has to use wings, propellers, or a gas in some combination to achieve flight. Get ready to add "flipping inside-out" to the list.
SmartInversion is a helium-filled flying object built by Festo that achieves thrust by turning itself inside-out: It's a six-sided ring of articulating prisms with a carbon-fiber frame. At its widest point, SmartInversion measures 15.5 feet (4.75meters) across, and the contraption weighs a mere 5 pounds (2.334 kg). SmartInversion's geometric jellyfish shape is based on the Kinematics of Inversion discovered by Paul Schatz.
The motion SmartInversion might look completely insane and trippy, but it makes complete sense from a mechanical standpoint. The object basically performs the equivalent of a breaststroke in the air. It begins its transformation by moving its arms forward to the center. When the object's arms sweep back, they scoop up and push the air behind it giving it thrust.
Driving the framework are servos that are commanded by ARM processor and powered by an 8.4V lithium polymer battery. Festo says that you can be remotely control SmartInversion via an iPhone app, and that it can fly for approximately 5 hours.
Festo's flying contraption is currently on display this week at the Hannover Messe technology trade show in Germany.
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This story, "This balloon flies by turning itself inside out" was originally published by PCWorld.