The Light Side: Hey, Pay Attention to This Fun In-Flight Safety Video

Plus: NASA Contemplates Hibernation Technology; and 'Smart' Ice Skating Blade Measures Athletes' Forces

airNZhobbitvidThere's a new race brewing among commercial airlines, and it's not which carrier will begin to nickle-and-dime you for a soft drink and a bag of blue-colored potato chips. Your in-flight safety videos are becoming ever more tricked out.

Air New Zealand is the latest airline to release a slick, high-concept safety video. Collaborating with the makers of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" film series, it  has created the self-proclaimed "The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made," in which actors and actresses pretending to be Air New Zealand staff pretending to be elves, wizards, and dwarfs from Middle-earth urge passengers to remember to buckle up and follow procedures.

In Tolkien-esque costumes, and backed by the most epic chorus, they shepherd two die-hard "Hobbit" fans -- presumably Americans -- to their final destination, New Zealand, natch. Of course, the rugged yet beautiful New Zealand landscape has stood in for Middle-earth in Peter Jackson's running series of movies since 2001. Along the nearly five-minute video journey, you'll also find trolls, beasts, and cameos by a couple of familiar faces, natch. If you don't enjoy this video, you might be comatose.

"The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made," a promotional tie-in for the upcoming conclusion to "The Hobbit" trilogy, entitled "The Battle of the Five Armies," also looks the most expensive safety video ever made. Now we anticipate that another airline will step up and top Air New Zealand. It's all part of a trend of creative in-flight service messages aimed at keeping passengers engaged and away from their cellphones and tablets for at least a few moments.

Delta Air Lines went with an '80s-themed safety video that features special guest stars from the beloved decade -- not all of them are human, either -- knowing it would cheekily but emotionally resonate with passengers. You'll find big hair and one-sided ponytails, glam-metal rockers, breakdancing, acid-washed denim, and flipped-up collars. It even has a smart way of addressing the anachronistic in-flight Wi-Fi. By the way, I would love to get a copy of that in-flight information pamphlet featuring a pictogram of prohibited '80s portable electronic devices. Totally rad!

So, as Virgin America tells you, zip your lips, honey, and enjoy the show before you move into the stratosphere. Said one YouTube poster, "I would fly that airline just to see that video."

NASA Contemplates Hibernation Technology

Credit: SpaceWorks Credit: SpaceWorks

Hibernation technology has long been a staple of sci-fi books and movies. Now in a twist toward the real, researchers at NASA are investigating whether the technology could be used for journeys to Mars and deep space.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding deep-space travel is the "footprint" that's made by each human member of a mission's crew, including consumables like food and water, space to move around, electricity, and protection from solar radiation. While all of those things can be provided for, the cost of getting the required systems and architecture into orbit is enormously expensive.

One solution to the human footprint problem has been the oft-explored idea of hibernation. In most incarnations, this sci-fi staple sees members of a crew ushered into hibernation pods, where their bodies are put into a form of suspended animation only to awake shortly before their mission is about to commence. According to a plan being developed by NASA and the private firm SpaceWorks, an experimental concept called RhinoChill would see crew members enter induced sleep by having invasive tubes placed in their nasal cavities and cooling liquid funneled into the base of their brains. Once firmly in the grasp of their chemical nap, robots would be employed to feed and exercise the bodies of a crew, ensuring no one wakes from their sleep atrophied.

Though hibernation seems like a ludicrous concept, particularly since our current space efforts revolve around spruced-up mid-century tech, the benefits of such a system could be enormous. Aside from the space and money they would conserve, hibernation systems could eliminate some of the psychological effects associated with long-term space flight.

Regardless of its benefits, though, any type of hibernation technology is still far from a reality. But you've got to hand it to the people at NASA; regardless of shrinking budgets and the wandering objectives of revolving administrations, the agency is always hard at work producing working plans for our species' most ambitious projects -- even before they're considered realistic.

This article was originally published on and is adapted in its entirety with permission. For more stories like this please visit

'Smart' Ice Skating Blade Measures Athletes' Forces

Skate1Scientists wanted to get down to knowing the exact forces figure skaters exert when they leap into the air and land back down, so that skating boots could be redesigned to help prevent injuries and athletic trainers could have better information. To do this, they secretly switched a figure skater's regular skate blade with one fitted with strain gauges and Wheatstone bridges. Well, not exactly. They didn't do it surreptitiously.

A group of researchers from Brigham Young University and Ithaca College developed a skate blade with strain gauges that attach directly to the stanchions of the skate-blade holder that connects to the boot. The blade was also fitted with Wheatstone bridges for measuring electrical resistance changes in the gauges. Forces are calculated from the electrical resistance changes that occur when the strain gauges are deformed along with the deformation of the skate-blade holder stanchions upon impact caused by the figure skater's movements. The whole kit, powered by a battery, weighs 142 grams and fits under the boot space so it does not interfere with the skater.

So far, scientists have only done simulations outside the skating rink to get an estimated picture of the forces skaters exert. "This is because on-ice measurement of the forces associated with figure skating are fairly difficult to record due to the complexity of the sport and not wanting to interfere with the skater during their jumps," said Deborah King, one of the researchers. "We decided to develop a method that measures forces directly with the blade."

The instrumented skate blade was first tested on an artificial leg and foot with 14 different vertical loads maxing out at 236 kg. When the kit passed that test, it was fitted to a figure skater who jumped from a 20-cm box onto the floor. The test results were compared with those from a skater wearing a normal skate who jumped onto a force plate. The researchers were pleased with the comparable results.

"It was encouraging to see that the device performed very well for vertical loads," King said. Now they can study more closely the stresses skaters exert on their joints during their programs, which have 50 to 100 jumps on average. Figure skaters typically practice up to five times each week, so that's a lot of joint stress worth saving.

The special skate blade and findings were presented in the Institute of Physics journal Measurement Science and Technology.

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