Todd Reichert is a graduate from the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS). He credits U of T for allowing him to explore so many different interests, including film studies, athletics and flight.
Reichert, from Saskatchewan, came to U of T “because it had the best aerospace program in the country.” The University “provided so many opportunities to express my love of flight,” he said. “It allowed us to go ahead with a random, crazy project.”
There were actually two major projects that led to world-wide attention and awards.
One project, four years in the making, saw Reichert and his partner Cameron Robertson lead a team that designed and built a Human-Powered Ornithopter. For two summers the team lived together in Tottenham, Ont. building the first flapping-wing aircraft. The project, which had a budget of $200,000, won the team the Trans-Canada McKee Trophy and the FAI Dimplome D’Honneur.
The second project, which they worked on from 2011-13 and in Tottenham for a summer, required a human-powered helicopter to reach three metres and stay up for 60 seconds. They achieved the record in June, 2013.
Reichert and Robertson’s team won the Sikorsky Prize, a $250,000 challenge that no one had been able to win since it was first introduced by the American Helicopter Society in 1980.
It took 18 months to build and fine-tune the helicopter, which takes up an entire soccer field. The team won the Sikorsky prize because it was the first flight of a human-powered helicopter to exceed 60 seconds in duration and reach three metres in height.
The team didn’t have much research funding for the project so they did fundraising themselves, including using Kickstarter.com to find money. More than $34,000 was raised for the project. The total budget was $200,000 that included donated materials and components.
Reichert and Robertson founded Aero Velo Inc. in 2012, a company dedicated to increasing the public’s awareness of sustainable solutions to society’s most-pressing technological challenges.
One of the challenges is attempting to set a speed record at the World Human Record Speed Challenge on five miles of road in Nevada in September, 2014 by designing and riding a high-speed aerodynamic bicycle. The world record is 133 kph.
Reichert said though the helicopter and Ornithopter are not practical vehicles “the technology going into the bike could be very practical — capable of highway speeds on less than one horsepower–several hundred more times efficient than a car.”
The company will enlist eight U of T engineering students next summer to help with the high-speed bicycle test. Reichert said the calibre of U of T students they take on in the summer is “top notch, just above and beyond” students from other universities. The U of T offers “very many opportunities where you can learn, not just about a career, but about yourself.”