Fascinating NYU experiment reveals surprising data on fluid-dynamics for top-heavy airborne structures.
"Think that floating pyramids are more metaphysics than physics? Think again. Results just in from an experiment that levitated open-bottomed paper pyramids on gusts of air reveal a curious phenomenon: When it comes to drifting through the air, top-heavy designs are more stable than bottom-heavy ones. The finding may lead to robots that fly not like insects or birds but like jellyfish.
The researchers placed hollow paper pyramids inside the cylinder. The objects were about 1 to 5 centimeters high and were made of tissue paper or letter paper on carbon fiber supports, like tiny homemade kites. Physicist Bin Liu led the experiments, attaching a beadlike weight to a post running down the center of the pyramid and changing the height of the bead to give the object a different center of mass. Common sense says that the pyramid should be most stable when the bead is at the bottom of the post, like ballast in the hold of a ship. But when the team released the pyramids over the subwoofer, the opposite was true: the bottom-heavy pyramids were likely to flip over and fall, whereas the top-heavy ones remained upright and continued to hover (see first video), the group reports in an upcoming issue of Physical Review Letters.
Zhang's team suggests that flapping pyramid or cone robots could combine stability and maneuverability. They would quickly right themselves if they leaned further than 30° in any direction, but within 30°, they should move freely."