Man flies like a bird with help of Wii controllers and Android phone (Yeah, right)


It sounds too good to be true: A Dutch engineer named Jarno Smeets has released a video (below), which appears to show him flying like a bird, using little more than the power of his arms to achieve liftoff. The video has quickly spread around the Web in true viral fashion, with more than 850,000 views on YouTube, and the project has been reported as real by publications like Wired and Time magazine. But a quick look at the comments sections shows that the public isn’t buying it.

Smeets’ suspicious winged contraption, known as the “Human Bird Wings project,” was built using kite fabric, carbon windsurf masts, Turnigy motors, and the accelerometers from Wii controllers and an HTC Wildfire S smartphone. According to his press release, the unique setup “allowed [Smeets] to move his arms freely without any risk of breaking them.” Smeets says the design, which took eight moths to perfect, was inspired by the work of his grandfather and Leonardo DaVinci.

Watching the video, it’s nearly impossible not to get excited. Human-powered flight — actual flight, not gliding — has been an unreachable dream for probably as long as humans have had imaginations. It’s also impossible not to suspect that the whole thing is a giant marketing gimmick. Interestingly, however, a few noteworthy sources (like “Mythbusters'” Jamie Hyneman) have said that the alleged feat is physically possible (tho improbable), and there is no evidence so far that the video was made using CGI. That of course doesn’t confirm that Smeets really flapped his wings and took off. But it does narrow the chances that we’re all being played for fools.

After Wired covered the story straight, the publication’s resident science expert, Rhett Allain, analyzed the video using motion-tracking software. His conclusion: “Let me just say that there is nothing in this video that indicates it must be a fake.”

That said, a number of pilots and hang gliding experts tell Gizmodo that the video is most certainly fake, since the telltale signs that Smeets is actually flying (like the fabric in the wings going taut) are entirely absent. Moreover, it’s appears that Smeets is lying about something — his employment history. Belgian website Humo reports that two of the places Smeets claims on his LinkedIn profile to have worked — Philips Design and Paliton Engineering — both denied that he was ever employed there. Another damning detail is that, since the video came out, Smeets has refused to give any interviews (at least as far as we can tell). Indeed, he never responded to our email, sent out yesterday, asking about the video.

Obviously, this one is still, ahem, up in the air. And regardless of whether this is real or simply a very fantastic example of viral marketing, it’s still quite an achievement.

Watch the video below:

UPDATE: A reader just clued us into this video (below), in which visual effects artist Daniel Lang “debunks” Smeets’ allegedly historic flight. In two instances, Lang says he sees evidence that the flight video (above) is simply very well executed CGI. While we are definitely skeptical, we’re not 100 percent sure that this is conclusive evidence of a hoax, per se, but it’s certainly more believable than a guy flying like a bird with some homemade contrivance.

Emerging Tech

Thrill-seekers will be able to pilot themselves in a giant drone as soon as 2019

Want to hitch a ride on a giant drone? The startup Lift Aircraft is gearing up to let paying customers fly its 18-rotor giant drones over assorted scenic landscapes across the U.S.
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Emerging Tech

Full-fledged drone delivery service set to land in remote Canadian community

Some drone delivery operations seem rather crude in their execution, but Drone Delivery Canada is building a comprehensive platform that's aiming to take drone delivery to the next level.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

Postmates’ to roll out Minion-like autonomous delivery robots in 2019

Postmates is about to employ a cute little robot to work alongside its human delivery personnel. Called Serve, the wheel-based bot can carry items weighing up to 50 pounds and has a range of 30 miles.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Rise of the Machines: Here’s how much robots and A.I. progressed in 2018

2018 has generated no shortage of news, and the worlds of A.I. and robotics are no exception. Here are our picks for the most exciting, game changing examples of both we saw this year.
Emerging Tech

Are e-cigarettes safe? Here’s what the most recent science says

Ecigarettes are widely regarded and advertised as a healthier alternative to cigarettes for people who are trying to kick the smoking habit. How safe are these cigarette alternatives? We went deep into the recent scientific literature to…
Emerging Tech

CRISPR gene therapy regulates hunger, staves off severe obesity in mice

Researchers from UC San Francisco have demonstrated how CRISPR gene editing can be used to prevent severe obesity in mice, without making a single edit to the mouse's genome. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Capture app saves money by 3D scanning objects using iPhone’s TrueDepth camera

Capture is a new iPhone app created by the Y Combinator-backed startup Standard Cyborg. It allows anyone to perform 3D scans of objects and share them with buddies. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe captures first image from within the atmosphere of the sun

NASA has shared the first image from inside the atmosphere of the sun taken by the Parker Solar Probe. The probe made the closest ever approach to a star, gathering data which scientists have been interpreting and released this week.
Emerging Tech

Say cheese: InSight lander posts a selfie from the surface of Mars

NASA's InSight mission to Mars has commemorated its arrival by posting a selfie. The selfie is a composite of 11 different images which were taken by one of its instruments, the Instrument Deployment Camera.
Emerging Tech

Researchers create a flying wireless platform using bumblebees

Researchers at the University of Washington have come up with a novel way to create a wireless platform: using bumblebees. As mechanical drones' batteries run out too fast, the team made use of a biology-based solution using living insects.