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Review: Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature – Episode 2

‘Super-senses’ is the second episode of Richard Hammond’s Miracles of Nature’s first series. It follows Richard Hammond as he looks at how evolutionary adaptations in nature can be used to solve everyday engineering and scientific problems. This week sees him travel the world focussing on senses and how they can help save lives, enable the blind to ride bicycles, and develop silent hairdryers.

The episode starts in the middle of a desert where Hammond, armed with a stick, a mobile phone and walkie-talkies, is joined by a rattle snake. As he uses the stick to place the devices beside the snake, you start to wonder what he’s up to. He eventually shows that despite not having ears, the snake can still feel vibrations and reacts to the phone immediately.

Elephants use vibrations through the earth to communicate over long distances, and by using the same concept; Hammond shows how trapped miners can communicate to people above ground. An extreme low frequency device using the power of a small car battery sends a simple signal to the surface telling rescuers what section of the mine the minors are in, and whether or not the air quality is good. This is the type of technology that can be used to save lives.

It’s common knowledge that bats can see in the dark; but Hammond showed just how accurately their senses work. The bats could fly between thin wires, separated by a distance much less than the width of their wings. When the cameras were slowed down, you could see the bats pull in their wings at the last possible moment.

A group of men in Bristol have developed a bike which sends high frequency sound like a bat and when the reflected signal is detected, it sends a vibration to the handlebars. The rider, who has been blind for nine months, could develop a picture of his surroundings and cycle through a forest.

Richard Hammond proved throughout the show how remarkable nature can be at times, and how we can look for real world solutions by studying the senses. Elephants can help miners, bats can direct the blind, and even owls silent wings can be studied to find a way to make silent fans (imagine a laptop that doesn’t make a loud noise when it’s running).

The show ended in one of Hammond’s more usual surroundings; a car, or a truck to be more precise. But this was not just any truck: it was autonomous, with the ability to manoeuvre through bollards. It uses invisible ‘whiskers’ in the form of lasers to create a detailed map of its surroundings. The technology is currently being developed for military use to send supplies safely, but it could seriously be released to the public roads in the future. So if your car is driving you in the future while you check-in on Facebook, just remember, your cat helped the car learn to drive.