9 TED Talks About Aviation and Aerospace

Raffaello D'Andrea's Quadcopters: Not your Father's Drone

Athletic Quadcopters
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D'Andrea is on the forefront of robotics and drone technology, and after watching him demonstrate these super-intelligent quadcopters, you'll be in disbelief. Reminiscent of something out of a Harry Potter novel, but completely real, these smart quadcopters show how amazing science really is. When paired with the right algorithms, these drones can play catch with you, will resist outside forces imposed upon them, do aerobatics and even continue to fly with a broken propellor. 

Make sure you watch until the end, when he demonstrates how drones can be manipulated via virtual interaction, moving the drones from across the room as if by magic. And then watch this video, made in part by Cirque du Soleil and Verity Studios, which is just plain fascinating.  

Paul MacCready on Why Nature Matters to Aviation

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In his brilliant discussion of how the ever-increasing human population is throwing off nature's balance, Paul MacCready discusses how his goal to create a more sustainable future led him to a few really cool airplane designs. Some of his inventions include the earliest rubber band ornothopter, the very small but purposeful AV Pointer, which provides airborne surveillance, and a solar airplane that in 1981 flew from Paris to England on solar power alone. It was MacCready who was responsible for the Pathfinder, a solar powered airplane that flew to 71,530 feet, setting records for the highest altitude flown by a solar powered airplane and by a propeller-driven airplane.   

"Where all this leads, I don't know... but like any basic research, when you're really forced to do things that are way beyond existing technology, you get there through microtechnology and nanotechnology, and when you realize what nature's been doing all along...you realize we have a lot to learn from nature. Nature has 200 million years of experience and never makes a mistake."   

Yves "Jetman" Rossy Talks Birds and Turbine Jetpacks

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Always entertaining, Yves "Jetman" Rossy describes how it feels to fly like a bird. With jet packs on his back. Rossy insisted on maintaining the purity of human flight at its simplest, "like a bird," but he wanted to be able to change course and remain in the air. The result was a jetpack, which has four turbine engines as part of a backpack and allows him to fly up to 190 miles per hour. Rossy has crossed the English Channel and the Alps, the Grand Canyon and now he flies with partner Vince Refett in Dubai. 

Airbus Engineer Bastian Schaefer Wants to Make A 3D-Printed Airplane

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Bastian Schaefer is an aircraft engineer, and he's on a mission to design a better airliner. Sustainability is important to aviation, says Schaefer, and he's working with Airbus to develop an aircraft design that will promote health, productivity, and modern human-machine interface design. And why not make it with 3D printing technology, which saves weight without sacrificing strength? In just six minutes, Schaefer explains his concept for the next best passenger jet. 

Paraplegic Olympic Skier Janine Shepherd Walks Again. And Then She Flies

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Olympic cross-country skier Janine Shepard lost use of her legs after getting hit by a truck during a training bike ride. Along with being paralyzed from the neck down, she had head injuries, she broke her neck and back, her ribs, her right arm and her collarbone. But she didn't lose her sense of hope, or her sense of humor. 

In her inspirational speech, Shepherd talks about her path from partial paraplegic to private pilot license. And she didn't stop there. In the 18 months after her accident, Shepherd earned her multi-engine and commercial pilot certificates, along with an instrument rating and a flight instructor certificate. 

Why Burt Rutan Thinks Commercial Space Travel is Where it's At

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Take a trip back to 2006, when Burt Rutan asks aviation entrepreneurs to step up and take action toward space exploration. Rutan, a leader in spacecraft design, has worked toward commercial space flight. In 2010, Rutan partnered with Richard Branson to develop Spaceship Two, which would mark the beginning of commercial space exploration. Today, his message is still completely relevant. 

"The current plan right now is not really even allowing the most creative people in this country...to go out and take risks and try new stuff," Rutan said. "I'm really troubled by that." 

In his TED talk, Rutan describes a "capitalist space race" in which a very successful commercial space industry will soon make more money than the government could provide it with, and would subsequently provide the inspiration for government and military advances - somewhat backwards from what's occurred in the past.  

Richard Branson Talks About His Outrageous Airline Life

Richard Branson
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Richard Branson was dyslexic and left school at 15 years old. He's now a successful airline CEO and an outlandish one, at that. In his TED talk, the always entertaining Richard Branson discusses his bizarre airline life, his upbringing, why he went to prison, the "dark side" of business, and even fatherhood. As controversial and outrageous as he might appear to the media, Branson comes across as genuine and real in this video. 

Asked about the legacy he wants to leave, Branson says, "I don't think to much about legacy...hopefully I've got another 30 or 40 years to go. If I can make a difference, I hope to be able to make a difference." 

Stephen Hawking Answers Our Tough Questions About the Universe

Stephen Hawking
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"I am discounting the reports of UFOs.Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?" says Hawking. In his April 2008 TED talk, Hawking discusses where we came from, how the universe could have spontaneously created itself from nothing, and why we are not alone. 

But perhaps most important is the question of where we are going. Hawking, who has spent his life as a highly respected theoretical physicist, cosmonaut and a researcher at Cambridge, says, "The answers to these big questions show that we have made remarkable progress in the last hundred years. But if we want to continue beyond the next hundred years, our future is in space. That is why I am in favor of manned -- or should I say, personed -- space flight." 

In 1963, when Hawking was diagnosed with ALS, doctors gave him two years to live. Since then, Hawking has made many significant advancements in the study of space. 

Bertrand Piccard on his Solar Impulse Adventure

Bertrand Piccard
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Aviation is a metaphor for life, according to Bertrand Piccard, who first circumnavigated the globe in a hot air balloon and is now flying the Solar Impulse 2 around the world. The Solar Impulse 2 is the first airplane capable of flying day or night, perpetually, powered only by solar energy and without a drop of fuel. 

Piccard goes beyond aviation, though, to describe why he thinks its important to do what seems impossible, to face the fear of the unknown, and to discover different ways to do things, different ways to think, with the right spirit. 

Of his airplane, Piccard says, "This is not an airplane. This is a symbol of what we can achieve when we believe in the impossible, when we have a team, when we have pioneering spirit, and especially when we understand that all the uncertainties we have should be thrown overboard."