☛ Steve Jobs is dead.

Steve Jobs passed away today. 😔

I’ve only seen him as a public figure, of course, but I was, and will remain, a fan. I’ve admired him greatly, not just for the company he built, but for how he conducted his business—well, for the things he said and did publicly, at any rate.

A straightforward, honest man who played extremely hard when running his company, but who made sure he did the right thing all the same.

For an inkling to his way of thinking, see his Stanford commencement speech, and the interview he gave at the D8 conference.

Rest in Peace, Sir. Your legacy will live on, and will hopefully inspire the next generation of visionaries.

Cross-posted at GLobeTrekker

The Boeing 787

Boeing is in the process of launching (finally, after delays) its latest aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. This is the first new major jet launched since the Airbus A380, and of course, has me interested in many ways.

Of course, on a personal-professional level (if that term makes any sense, which I have a feeling it doesn’t—anyway, I work with composite materials, remember?) the B787 is mostly made out of composites. Mostly out of carbon-fiber laminates; some out of carbon fiber sandwiches—use of metal (titanium and aluminum) is minimal.

Second, I just love the wing design. The sweep and curve upward of the wings is just beautiful. Also, it is a vast improvement over the last generation of wing-tips, which looked as if from a design perspective they were a later ‘add-on’ to a previous, flat shape. Here, finally, is a smooth, elegant, downright beautiful wing shape!

I also found this link to the B787’s design highlights. It’s an informative page, do check it out. (For information about the composites being used, go to Visionary Design→Composites.)

From the link above, I learn (among other things):

  • There is a very futuristic HUD (Head-Up Display) in front of the pilots which combines what the pilot actually sees with other useful information that the pilot needs. I’ve seen things like these in Fighter Aircraft simulations, but is this the first time it’s being used commercially?
  • The B787 is not a very large aircraft! I had inherently assumed that the plane would be B747 or A380 scale (i.e. a pretty big plane), but it’s not—it can carry a maximum of about 300 passengers, compared to the B747’s ~400 and the A380’s 525 in three classes.
  • The internal air pressure of the aircraft will correspond to a lower altitude (6000ft, as compared to 8000ft in earlier aircraft), and will have higher moisture content—meaning a more comfortable flight!

Now, what remains is for the major airlines to buy these and put them into service.

The Robot that flies like a bird

We’ve always wanted to fly, haven’t we? We’ve watched the birds in the sky, and thought, “Wish we could fly—just like them!” We’ve succeeded; we’ve built out flying machines; we’ve flown in the air.

But not like a bird.

The way a bird flies is quite complex, and difficult to implement in human flight. We’ve devised alternate methods—jet engines and rigid wings. But finally, technology and mathematics have caught up, and we have a robot that flies just like a bird—by flapping its wings!

Of course, this is no easy feat. Bird flight is very efficient, and the shape of the wings, position of feathers (used as “flight controllers”), mechanics of the flapping motion—all of it combines to give the languid end result of a bird in flight. Imagine—the mechanical bird in the video apparently runs at 80% efficiency! (That’s a very high figure.)

Having said that, I hope we don’t fixate ourselves with perfecting bird flight per se. It’s great to master the technology; it’s great to be able to make working devices out of that technology; hopefully they’ll be able to make it even at larger scales, while keeping the same high efficiency. But the whole idea of biomimetics, I think, should be bio-inspiration, not bio-copy.

After all, nature has chosen certain mechanisms for its processes—but they don’t signify the best possible methods. They only signify the techniques that were found to do the job. Since it did the job efficiently, it stuck through the evolutionary chain. But had an even better mechanism been “stumbled upon”, then that would be the technology we’d be trying to copy and develop!

All I’m saying is: let’s learn the technology perfectly, and then let’s make it our own. Let’s fly even better than the birds.