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1. I’ve taken a copy1 of the video lest it disappears, but it’s currently available on-line via one of the links further down this Note. I was asked

Do you reckon this is real, or just clever photography?!!! (or is this simpler to work out than we imagine?)

2. You have to watch the video to make sense of what follows – but it should only take a couple of minutes. It's a clever fake, of course!
3. The reason it has to be a fake is that it’s technologically impossible (or at least miraculous), and the reason for this is the precision required.
4. The exercise divides into two parts
• a. Slithering down the long slide and back up the launch ramp, and
• b. Wooshing through the air and landing in the paddling-pool.
Part a is required to generate the energy needed for part b.
5. The problem is that considerable accuracy is required for part b, both in direction and velocity. This would be fine if we were firing a projectile from a cannon, but “firing” a human being via a long ramp is a different matter. Now, it might be possible to get the parameters right once in a thousand, maybe, but this would not be possible with a human being, who would require quite a lot of patching up after a single miss, let alone a thousand. Also, it’s not a question of fine-tuning using a dummy, and then going for real with a human being, as we will see.
6. The source of energy is gravity, and a precise amount is required for the final parabolic2 motion.
7. In the video, the initial delivery mechanism (a quick shove preceded by water lubrication) is very imprecise3 for such a long narrow slide. Even slithering down the slide without falling off would be unlikely without buffers. The problem is that to stay straight on the slide you'd need to steer using your feet, which would be fairly random, depending on which bumps you encountered and would consume an unknown amount of kinetic energy, which would make the take-off velocity unpredictable, not to mention the direction of take-off. Even with buffers, an unknown amount of energy would be consumed by friction.
8. So much for the physics; but there are various tell-tale signs in the video itself – which relies on the enthusiastic celebratory cheering – which is very well done (though may be borrowed from some genuine triumph) – for much of its verisimilitude.
• There's a dip in the trajectory that you can't see, a rather obvious give-away for splicing together bits of film. The final projectile bit is do-able, if dangerous, but you can't use the slide to gain the required kinetic energy. So, there’s some other “delivery mechanism” hidden out of sight.
• The anemometer is supposed to indicate the importance of wind-speed, but quite what "corrections" could be made to account for the wind isn't clear. Presumably it’s supposed to be “go / no go” only.
• One of the diagrams on the web-site (Web Link (http://www.microsoft.com/germany/aktionen/mach-es-machbar/en-us/projekt-megawoosh.aspx) Defunct) has a vague reference to magnetic repulsion - magnetische abstossung in German – as (along with water) a way of reducing friction (reibung); which seemed very fishy as there’s no obvious maglev in sight!
9. Anyway, I had a look at the website that appears at the bottom of the video-clip (Web Link (http://www.megawoosh.com) Defunct) and the URL morphs into a Microsoft URL (Web Link (http://www.microsoft.com/germany/aktionen/mach-es-machbar/) Defunct). The whole thing is a stunt to advertise MS Project, and there's even an admission on the site:

"Even if Bruno Kammerl remains a fiction".

10. Also, there's a debunking site (Web Link (http://gigaom.com/2009/08/11/the-megawoosh-waterslide-viral-how-it-was-really-done/)) that shows how the initial downward slither was achieved using a safety-rope and the film subsequently edited and speeded up. The “projectile” is an animated dummy rather than a human being.
11. It’s an interesting question whether the delivery and take-off mechanism could be improved – eg. by using an ice-luge. Then, if the human being had to do no more than impersonate a dummy, the trialling might make it possible to set the parameters. But even so – slight variations in initial conditions might lead to major changes in outcome.
12. No doubt one could wax lyrical on the psychology of belief here. Even though it would be a "natural/scientific" miracle for this to be real, it'd be a miracle nonetheless. Why are some people instinctively credulous, and others instinctively sceptical?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Note that this, despite only being a 45-second video, is a 4Mb file, so may take a while to download and spring to life in Windows Media Player, or whatever your system is configured to play .wmv files with.

Footnote 2: I’m ignoring wind-resistance here, which might or might not be a significant factor.

Footnote 3: Maybe it could be improved; a professional mathematician would be able to perform some sensitivity calculations that would quantify what I have to say.

Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14

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