April 24, 2012 at 2:24 PM ET
How does E.T. fly around? Perhaps it uses something akin to this mind-bending helium-filled flying object that moves through the air by turning inside-out.
This type of constant, rhythmically pulsating movement is known as inversion and gives this object its name: SmartInversion, explains Festo, the German engineering firm that designed the thing.
The object’s six-sided moveable shape was envisioned by the late inventor Paul Schatz. Festo’s version uses lightweight materials, electric drive units and control and regulation technology to achieve indefinite motion. New Scientist explains how it works:
The flying object itself is made up of six identical prisms filled with helium, held together by a carbon-fibre framework. Three motors drive the motion coordinated by a tiny onboard computer, pre-programmed to replicate the inversion sequence. Using a smartphone, a person on the ground can guide the object around a room.
The object was demonstrated Monday at Hannover Messe, a technology trade show. Festo is currently sponsoring a competition to figure out how to use the object. Maybe it’s the basis of space travel out there, somewhere?
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.