Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The CycloCrane - Invention, A Dangerous Guest

Ladies, and Gentlemen - the CycloCrane.

CycloCrane by you.

The Problem: bulldozers tear up the ground scratching out roads to the logging site. Helicopters can lift the logs out so you don't irritate the local Greens - but rotary-winged aircraft are expensive to operate.

The Solution: A lighter than air craft that rotates the bag for control and lift. The intention was that the operator sit in a cab suspended by cables underneath the bag.

It's a solution for more than just logging. Helicopters aren't just expensive - they're loud. And they have a lousy failure mode. [1] CycloCrane was meant to pick up as much as 35 tons at a time. There should be a lot of business for a machine like that, as anyone stuck on a two-lane road behind half a double-wide can appreciate.

Cyclocrane by you.

An innovative idea. Too much so. They ran out of funds, the 80s kicked in and fuel prices went down. Aerolift tried to interest the government. The government expressed cautious interest. Then the Cold War ended.

Cyclocrane in color by you.

Invention, A Dangerous Guest

For technology to flourish, someone has to take a chance. In the end, the CycloCrane company did fail. That old blimp hangar is now an airship museum. The CycloCrane forms one of its many exhibits. It floats there as a permanent reminder of the almost quality of so much wonderfully inventive technology.

But should it also be a grim warning to us? Don't gamble on five-legged horses? I obviously don't think so. So I begin with the first issue that comes at me out of that Tillamook blimp hanger. It is, "Why do the reckless survive?" Reckless people expose themselves to more danger. Surely that threatens their Darwinian survival. You'd expect each generation to be more careful than the last. But recklessness does survive -- generation after generation.

The hunter who won't face a buffalo starves. The parent who won't risk her life to save her child faces Darwinian extinction. Writer Melvin Konner asks us to look more closely at risk-takers. He explains that psychologists identify four faces of that person:

Click to read more.

[1] If stuff stops working generally what happens is you crash really fast into stuff. If that stuff is water it's worse - the first thing machine does is flip over. Then it sinks. This all happens very quickly.
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