Move over, Felix Baumgartner: the Austrian daredevil's skydiving record has been smashed by a bionic teddy bear powered by Cambridge technology.
Last August, Babbage Bear soared up to 39,000 metres - over 30 metres higher than Baumgartner's ascent - before plummeting back to Earth. The cuddly toy was controlled by a tiny Raspberry Pi computer, which communicated with ground control and transmitted still and video pictures throughout his mission into the upper atmosphere.
Software programmer and balloon enthusiast Dave Akerman was one of the first people to order a Raspberry Pi in the UK, and immediately thought about sending it into near space. After several successful flights using weather balloons, he worked out that he could fit the computer inside Babbage Bear - the mascot of the Raspberry Pi Foundation - and emulate the feat of Felix Baumgartner.
The intrepid Babbage was strapped in to a launch capsule attached to a hydrogen-filled balloon. Like Baumgartner, he had a camera trained over his shoulder to capture the moment when he made his leap of faith into (very) thin air. The launch took place on 26 August 2013, near Akerman's home in Berkshire, and the event was live-streamed on the internet.
When the capsule reached 39,000 metres, a cord was cut to separate Babbage from his capsule. The bear in the air had another camera fitted inside his eye socket to shoot pictures during the descent, and the Raspberry Pi constantly transmitted his position to the chase car. He was safely retrieved from a field just south of Shaftesbury, an hour and a half after landing.
The video of Babbage's skydive has notched up more than 200,000 hits online and made him an international TV star, but Dave Akerman already has greater plans. "I'd like to fly him in a paraglider, and programme the Raspberry Pi with its landing positions," he says.
For this fearless teddy, the sky's no limit.
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