Is it just us, or are cool things coming out of University of Toronto these days?


There must be something in the U of T water. Recently, not one but two teams of innovators made headlines thanks to their impressive and thought-provoking achievements.

Back in June, Atlas, a human-powered helicopter, broke records when it climbed to a height of 3.3 metres during a 64-second flight. The ’copter is the brainchild of University of Toronto grads Cameron Robertson and Todd Reichert who, along with local engineering team AeroVelo, won the AHS Igor I. Sikorsky Human Powered Helicopter Competition, including a $250,000 prize.

Weighing a relatively light 122 pounds, the heli is constructed from materials that include carbon fibre composite, lightweight balsa wood and polystyrene foam. Spanning 154 feet from rotor tip to rotor tip, the mammoth unit is the second largest helicopter ever built, beat out only by a non human-powered Russian make. A bike frame hangs from a truss, fueling the contraption with human strength. Reichert, a speed skater and cyclist, piloted the award-winning flight following strength-inducing, high-performance coaching — no mean feat.

Although the helicopter helps shine a positive light on our city, the second item — a 3-D-printed gun — acts as a starting point for discussion.

In early July, Matt Ratto, director of U of T’s Critical Making Lab, along with Daniel Southwick and ginger coons, assembled a working handgun after downloading files off the Internet.

The gun is based on a design by self-proclaimed anarchist Cody Wilson, a student at the University of Texas who, weeks prior, fired his original version at a state shooting range. Costing a mere $300, the Canadian DIY gun was ready to go in 26 hours. Although they altered the design slightly, making it impossible to fire, a working version would’ve been just as easy — and inexpensive — to make.

The ease with which this 3-D-printed gun was created raises questions about gun control and 3-D printers. Although building homemade firearms in Canada is an illegal act, 3-D printers are not tracked and downloading files is unrestricted.

Whether or not you agree with the implications of both achievements, you can’t help but applaud the innovation coming out of the University of Toronto. 

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