One of the Earliest Airplanes Flew in Poland in 1648

Polish invention airplane
A drawing of Burattini’s “flying dragon.”

Every school kid knows that the Wright brothers built the first successful airplane in 1903 and invented modern aviation. That doesn’t mean they were the first to try. If you happened to be in Warsaw during February 1648 and looked up, you might have seen a cat flying a mechanical dragon.
Wait. What? Let’s back up a little.
At that time, there happened to be an Italian inventor living in Warsaw named Titus Livius Burattini (Latin names were common then). Burattini had been born in Agordo, Italy in 1617 but had come to Poland in his twenties. He spent some time in Krakow before moving to Warsaw in 1646.
Burattini was a scientist and inventor who always had his eyes on the skies. Upon first arriving to Warsaw, he spent his days constructing telescopes and making astronomical observations. He even crafted lenses that fitted the telescope of renowned Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius.
Among Burattini’s interests was the concept of flight. Man had dreamed of flying since ancient times. As early as 400 BC, the Greek scientist Archytas had constructed a primitive mechanical flying device. Of course, no one had yet demonstrated that it was possible to build a machine that could fly people. The Montgolfier brothers would not invent the hot air balloon until the 1780s, and the Wright brothers were more than 200 years away.

The “Flying Dragon”

In 1647, Burattini wrote a treatise entitled “Flight is Not Impossible as Previously Commonly Believed.” In it he presented various theories on how humans could fly, including one that he put into practice.
Burattini conceptualized an ornithopter, which is an airplane that flies by flapping its wings, much like a bird or insect. However, his ornithopter would be shaped like a dragon with several sets of wings: two main wings on each side, four on top and two toward the front (perhaps his inspiration came from Poland’s famous Wawel Dragon). The device would seat a crew of two people, who would alternate operating the wings through a system of levers and springs. The tail would act as a rudder.
This “flying dragon” would be made of wood and whalebone and covered in fabric. It would include a parachute attached to the hull to soften the landing should the wings fail. The hull was even supposed to double as a boat in case the device landed in water.
To demonstrate to Wladyslaw IV, King of Poland, that the project warranted official funding, Burattini built a simplified, roughly 5-foot-long model powered by a system of levers, wheels and springs. In February 1648, Burattini put a cat inside this miniature “flying dragon,” and set it off with the pull of a string. Sources imply that the first test flight occurred without incident, but the device crashed during the second flight (hopefully the cat had some of its nine lives to spare).
A few months after the crash, Burattini built another model, designed for easy disassembly, which he sent to France for study. After that, Burattini seemingly abandoned his dream of building a successful flying machine, or at least the sources are quiet on the matter.
Burattini’s “flying dragon” is a footnote in the history of flight (I couldn’t even find any English-language sources documenting the device). However, it speaks to the talent and ingenuity coming out of Poland in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although he wasn’t Polish, Burattini’s experiments were made possible in Poland thanks to a culture of intellectualism and discovery.
Obviously, the “flying dragon” failed in the long run. But, for a brief moment in 1648, the skies of Warsaw were 300 years ahead of their time.

Sources

>> Inżynierowie Polsce w XIX I XX Wieku
>> Latający smok i amfibia, czyli jak Władysław IV o księżycu konferował

Meet Mateusz Mach: Poland’s Teenage Inventor and CEO

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Ask the average 18-year-old boy what his chief concerns are, and he’ll probably mention high school graduation, college applications, partying and girls. On the flip-side, inventing new technologies and kick-starting a multinational business is probably not on his priorities list.

That is, unless you ask Polish teenager Mateusz Mach,  who, despite being only 18, has already designed groundbreaking software to help deaf people communicate and convinced seasoned professionals to invest in his project.

Mach developed Five App, which was initially a downloadable phone application that allowed users to send different hand signs to their  friends instead of traditional texts. A hip hop enthusiast, Mach’s original purpose for Five App was to let people communicate in a fun way using symbols seen in the hip hop world, the idea being that only they and their friends would understand the messages.

Everything began to change when Mach recruited Blake Wind, an English tutor from the United States, to perfect the English in the app’s original version. Wind had considered the possibility of transforming the app into something more early on and connected Mach to Cindy Chen, an occupational therapist who is deaf in both ears, with a cochlear implant in her left ear.

“Blake explained to me that they wanted to build a platform that deaf people could use to communicate,” says Chen. “My unique experience of living as a hard of hearing individual who signs intermediate-level ASL and understands deaf culture allowed me to discover the purpose of Five App and its enormous potential. I contributed by providing feedback and sharing my ideas on how to bring this app to the next level.”

Mach was instantly sold on the idea.  “Up to 80 percent of deaf people have problems with reading and writing even simple messages. Moreover, they don’t have a proper messenger to communicate in sign language,” explains Mach. He realized that, instead of merely allowing the sharing of hip hop signs, his app could be a sign language messenger.

Entering the Shark Tank

Having the idea was one thing. Diving into the figurative “shark tank” and convincing seasoned investors to support the venture was a completely different ball game. The cards were especially stacked against Mach, who, as a teenager, ran the risk of not be taken as seriously by the investors.

This teenager, though, was not to be underestimated. Another person in his shoes might have tried to act extra formal during investor meetings, wearing a shirt, tie, slacks and expensive watch. Not Mach, who showed up wearing a hoodie and baseball cap.

Why? For Mach, convincing investors comes down to trust and staying true to oneself. “The main problem linked with finding the venture capital for any project is to make investors trust you,” explains Mach. “During the meetings I wear my baseball cap and hoodie not only because they are comfortable, but also because I believe that I owe my point of view to the environment in which I grew up, and that is why I respect hip hop culture so much.” It’s a genuineness that the investors respected and, ultimately, led some of them to back Mach.

Zrzut ekranu 2016-04-04 o 12.37.25 AMMoving Forward

Currently, Mach’s goal is to perfect Five App using American Sign Language (ASL) before eventually rolling out a Polish Sign Language version. In fact, this month the team expects to release a totally redesigned version of the app.  “The new app is a full fledged messenger with a base dictionary of 800 custom animated ASL signs, built to accommodate more,” says Blake Wind, who is now Chief Marketing Officer at Five App. “We’re working on a sign language messenger that will be as straightforward as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp.”

For her part, Cindy Chen now works closely with Five App’s animation team, reviewing the 800 animated signs and submitting comments and videos of corrections before they are released on the app. “I ensure the signs are all correct before they go live,” explains Chen.

According to Mach, “We’re taking a global perspective moving forward because we believe the possibilities are limitless. We are also keeping our fingers crossed for the possibility of cooperating with the United Nations. We are proud of the fact that more and more deaf people and authorities have expressed interest in helping us build the product.”

Despite his international strategy, Mach is aware of the significance his invention has for Polish innovation. He explains his hope that once international investors notice Polish inventions like Five App, they will be more inclined to support other Polish ventures. “In order to attract foreign partners here, we have to first prove the ability of the Polish startup community to create valuable products. I hope that Five App is, and will continue to be, a shining example of this,” states Mach.

To download Five App, visit http://fiveapp.mobi/

The Latest Innovations From Poland

teknologiaPoles are very smart people, but their ingenuity has long been overlooked due to a lack of awareness and investment from the outside world. For this reason, it’s important to highlight and appreciate Polish innovation and genius whenever possible to foster the talent that can make Poland a major player in Europe and the world.

Now, in 2016, the same country that helped develop X-rays and the understanding of heliocentricity is at it again. Check out these three innovative Polish ideas.

Liquid Body Armor

Scientists at the Polish company Moratex have developed a liquid called Shear-Thickening Fluid, or STF that hardens upon impact, stopping bullets flying at 450 meters per second (1,476 ft/sec.) or higher.

Unlike traditional bullet-proof vests, which can still deflect the bullet’s force into the body, resulting in injury or death, STF reduces this deflection from 4 centimeters to 1 centimeter. As a result, it’s much safer.  The liquid’s composition is guarded by the company, but it is known as a “Non-Newtonian” liquid, which hardens instead of dissipating when met with force.

Other possible STF applications besides body armor include sports uniforms and car bumpers.

Check out a full report and video on this new, Polish liquid body armor here.

Bar-tending Robot

What started as a robot that can flawlessly pour vodka into a shot glass, can be adapted into numerous applications. Students at AGH University in Kraków designed the robot to not only pour precise amounts of alcohol into glasses, but also to mimic a human’s movements.

At first glance, this might look like just another way for college students to get wasted without having to do the pouring, but the principles behind this bar-tending robot can be applied to other sectors. In hospitals, nurses could use the technology to pour exact doses of medicine for patients. Similarly chemical laboratories can use it to measure and pour substances. Right now,this project is still in its infancy, but proper funding could vastly expand its horizons.

Check out a video of this bar-tending robot here.

Messenger App for the Deaf

Perhaps more impressive than the world’s first messenger application for deaf people, is the fact that its inventor is an eighteen-year-old. Polish entrepreneur Mateusz Mach initially developed the free app, called Five, as a fun way to send hand signs and rap symbols to other people.

He soon realized though, that it could be applied to deaf people, who often have a difficult time typing with letters. Now, the app allows them to text others using American Sign Language. So far, Mach has single-handedly raised roughly $150,000 in funding from venture capitalists, which speaks to his exceptional ingenuity and business savviness. It will be interesting to see how Mach continues to develop the technology and expand its applications moving forward.

To download this free app, click here.

These are just some of the innovations being undertaken by Poles today. I hope to regularly feature more because they, more than anything else, foster the promise of a bright and successful future for Poland.