Have you ever noticed how chickens and some other birds can hold their heads in one position while their bodies move up and down and side to side? This ability has inspired engineers at Mercedes Benz to create what they call “Magic Body Control.” And they’re telling people about it in their ads, not with pictures of a shiny Mercedes speeding smoothly along bumpy roads, but with chickens demonstrating the principle behind the technology. Here you go:
The chicken is able to do this because of its vistibulo-ocular reflex. This is actually a reflex built into most creatures. In people it stabilizes eye movements as we bounce up and down while walking or running, so that we can still see clearly and we don’t get dizzy. While a search of resources on the internet doesn’t explain why a chicken has this special head stability, my theory is that the ability to fly requires even better control of sight and dizziness prevention.
Turns out this isn’t the first time that scientists have been inspired by this avian ability. Decades ago, NASA scientists studied owls as part of their efforts to help humans weather space travel. The owl’s vistublosensory system is much larger than a human’s with richer neural connections, so when its body is moved around in space it won’t get dizzy and throw up, unlike some of our astronauts. Here’s 45 seconds of some of NASA’s research with owls, and they even blindfold the owl and still it holds its head steady!
Mercedes Benz engineers’ version of this system for their cars uses two stereo cameras to scan the road surface up to fifteen meters ahead of the vehicle. The cameras send information on what they see to the suspension system which uses magnetic dampers to adjust to bumps and absorb potholes. They say you “glide over the road surface as if you were on a magic carpet.” I wonder if it would help our web master, Leah, who gets car sick at the drop of a hat?
I doubt that I’ll ever be able to afford a Mecerdes, and if I could I’d probably spend the money elsewhere. But there is something I might try out with one of the chickens in my coop. By strapping a video camera to a chicken’s head, you can get the smoothest video possible, provided of course that the chicken is looking at what you want to video! Here’s a demonstration of a chicken steady cam from which I learned that I might want safety glasses to protect my eyes from rooster spurs, and that one of the hazards is that the chicken might poop on my kitchen counter.
How will you use this? Well, next time someone tells you that we have Tang and Velcro because of the space program, you can say, “Yeah, but we couldn’t have gone to the moon without the help of chickens and their vestibulo-sensory reflex!” Now there’s a great line for a cocktail party!