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'Animals are amazing.'
'And the more we find out about them, the more amazing they seem.'
That feels pretty harsh.
'That's why scientists all over the world
'are trying their best to copy them...'
This is the future.
'..making brand-new inventions...' Tomato juice.
'..based on what animals can do.'
'Some are astounding.'
We've just dived under the sea.
This is not at all pleasant.
Yes, it's gone!
'But they're all inspired by the miracles of nature.'
How scientists might design the ultimate crash helmet,
by studying one small bird.
All-new crash helmets are subjected to a drop test
to ensure they offer enough protection.
And not just any old drop,
a drop from the top of the highest helmet drop-tower in Britain -
50 feet, straight down onto a solid steel pipe.
It's an impact speed of around 60 miles per hour,
but helmets can only survive an impact like this once.
And that's where the woodpecker comes in.
The great spotted woodpecker, to be precise.
The biggest head-banger on the planet.
It drills a hole up to four inches deep
through solid wood
to get at the larvae of wood-boring beetles.
Which puts its head, and its brain, through an astonishing pounding.
The thing is, and this is an incredible figure,
every time the woodpecker's beak strikes the tree,
its head is subject to 1,200G.
Which is enormous.
In a crash, a human could only survive a fraction of that.
So, can the woodpecker help us build a better helmet?
Engineer John Powell is trying to find out.
John, I'll be honest, it looks nothing like a woodpecker.
It doesn't look like a woodpecker, but we've replicated
the entire woodpecker brain support system.
A woodpecker has a sort of shock absorber
between its beak and its head.
And another between its skull and its brain.
And by using the same four flexible layers,
John reckons his canister can survive massive impact.
But we're not just going to take his word for it.
To find out just how good this container is,
we are going to drop it with something delicate inside it.
Something like this.
A bulb. Now that IS delicate.
We've got glass, thin glass, and the filament inside.
I can't get these things home from the store without breaking them,
I wouldn't expect this to survive a fall from a kitchen work surface.
But today we are going to drop it from space.
Here is the precious cargo.
John, I mean, this... It's not a specially prepared bulb or anything.
No, this is a regular light bulb we bought from the hardware store.
-It's just off a shelf?
The real trick is to get everything not to move.
Everything takes a lot of shock if it can't move,
then it can't come over towards the light bulb.
Hopeful, that's a good word for this mission.
Ambitious and hopeful.
But John is confident that his canister,
modelled on a woodpecker's skull,
OK, so here is how it's going to work.
Still can't quite believe I'm saying this.
Our canister containing the light bulb
will be suspended underneath the module.
That in turn will be suspended underneath that weather balloon,
which is filled with helium, which is lighter than air,
so that will take the whole lot up.
And up. And up.
Right beyond the edge of the Earth's atmosphere and, well, into space.
I know it sounds silly when you say it, but that's where it's going.
When it's there, down here on the ground in mission control,
which is that van over there,
they will press a button that will release our module
and it will fall all the way back down to Earth with our light bulb.
And then, well, we'll just see what happens.
It's equipped with GPS so they can find it. We'll have a look.
-We're going into space.
'Commencing launch procedure.'
It's up. It's going that way.
Bye-bye, light bulb.
Good luck on the way back down.
The balloon carrying our woodpecker canister
rises astonishingly quickly -
around 1,000 feet a minute -
and it's already out of sight from the ground.
Time to get myself to mission control.
Just 2,000 feet to go till our designated drop point
and then our canister containing our precious light-bulb cargo
begins its Mach 1 journey back towards Earth...
and a substantial crash landing, which, hopefully, it will survive,
thanks to a technology derived from that of a woodpecker's head.
There it is. Go.
-There it goes!
Within seconds, the canister is going fast enough
to break the sound barrier.
If there WAS any sound in space, that is.
Yet even at 700-odd miles an hour,
the descent is going to take a remarkable 15 minutes -
now THAT is what I call a drop test.
With the canister now out of sight,
the team remotely detonate the weather balloon.
A parachute launches automatically,
floating the transmitters and cameras safely back down to Earth.
The canister isn't so lucky.
No woodpecker has ever travelled at 700 miles per hour.
No woodpecker has ever plummeted 85,000 feet.
But right now, we're relying on the way a woodpecker
protects its brain
to keep that light bulb intact.
With the canister down, we head out as quickly as we can to retrieve it.
But we have no luck.
As night falls, we're still no closer to finding our canister.
Until more than a week later
when John finally finds the cylinder and posts it on to me.
Stickers say, "Fragile, handle with care." It's a bit late!
Right, let's get this open.
It's like the weirdest Christmas ever.
I daren't look.
This suddenly is now the most precious artefact
I shall ever handle.
There it is.
No parachute, no magic.
There is one further test I could do,
cos I did spot over here...
And this does work. Yeah, it does work.
Do you know, it might just be intact.
That's not the bulb. That's not been to space.
THIS is our space bulb.
If this works, I will be staggered,
because when the director suggested using a light bulb, I said no.
That is astonishing!
Over there is a very happy man indeed,
because I said, "That's just a step too far - it can't possibly work."
That light bulb has been flown up to space and dropped -
the only thing protecting it was this whole system,
which was home-made
and modelled on the way a woodpecker's skull
protects its brain, when subjected to G, pecking trees.
This was subjected to G, landing without a parachute, from space.
There are already helmet manufacturers looking at this,
which means, one day, woodpeckers could be life-savers.
And that, I think you'll agree,
has got to be one of the miracles of nature.