Human Bird Wings

Update – 3/22

It has come out that in fact the “Human Bird Wings” videos are a hoax. Jarno Smeets is really Floris Kaayk, a CGI artist. My theory that this was a viral marketing campaign was wrong. Apparently the videos are related to a documentary that Kaayk is working on.

Update – 3/21

I have to admit that it makes me sad to see the following lending credence to this fakery.

Jamie Hyneman of Mythbusters.

MAKE Magazine

TIME

GIZMODO

All “report” on this story with complete and utter credulity. Note that each of these outlets has either removed the story entirely, updated it to remake that it’s a hoax, or edited the original story to change what their original conclusions were.

Note though that GIZMODO now has an updated story with input from folks at ILM (special effects experts) who agree that it’s fake.

Original Post

There is a video going around the Net that shows Jarno Smeets, a mechanical engineer, supposedly flying via motorized wings he calls “Human Bird Wings.” The concept is interesting, Smeets supposedly uses an Android phone along with a Wii controller to control the flapping of the wings with his arms.

It’s not a particularly compelling control system from the standpoint of efficiency, comfort, or flight time. I’d imagine that even someone who is fit would only be able to sustain sufficient hand flapping for a few minutes. It’s a completing gimmick though.

Is It Real?

There are a number of people (me included) that are questioning the authenticity of the video showing the “Human Bird Wings” working. While I can’t say with absolute certainty that the video is faked, there are some compelling reasons to believe it is.

Clues

Smeets has a video demonstrating the flapping device but it’s curious that outside of the two flight videos this is the only video showing the flapping device working and the wings aren’t even attached. I believe there is a reason for this.

There are two videos that show Smeets attempting to fly the “Human Bird Wings.” The first is of a failed test flight:

Notice that at the 1:51 mark the camera pans down to the ground and then pans back up to at the 1:53 mark, just when Smeets starts his attempt to takeoff. Again, at the 2:21 mark, after Smeets fails to get airborne, the camera again pans to the ground and stays there until a cut (2:27) to the cameraman and crew running towards the craft. Curious.

Up until the 1:53 mark the device looks like it’s physically there in the park. I believe they used a physical model of the craft for the close up shots. What we see from the 1:53 mark to the 2:21 mark is a computer generated model of the craft superimposed on a shot of an empty park. Then at the 2:21 mark the camera pans down and cuts to another shot where the physical (but not functioning) device is used for the close up shot.

The second video shows Smeets actually take off and fly the craft:

The test video was uploaded on Jan 20, 2012 while flight video was uploaded on March 19, 2012. I find it odd that Smeets and his crew seem to be wearing the same clothes in videos that were shot 60 days apart:

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It’s curious that the only footage shot from the craft is of the ground. This is probably because that footage is from a camera attached to an RC plane. That’s my guess anyway.

Finally, while there are no odd pans or noticeable cuts, I believe that the video of the flight is faked as well. My guess is that at the 0:20 mark when the crew starts to run towards the camera is when the switch between footage happens. It actually looks like the crew is standing in front of a green screen. Everything from this point on is just a computer model superimposed on footage of empty sky.

Conclusion

I believe both videos are faked. My guess is that Smeets is probably more actor than mechanical engineer, and a model of the “Human Bird Wings” was constructed for close up shots but that all shots of the flight (attempted or otherwise) were done via special effects. My guess is that it’s part of a viral marketing campaign and that GoPro, HTC or both are behind it.

Lastly, from a physics standpoint I don’t think the device would work. If Smeets jumped off a cliff he may glide but I can’t see this device generating enough lift to overcome the weight of the craft and pilot.

Adam ByersComment