When a team of Japanese researchers decided to put a supercomputer into a giant crane, they had no idea that the machine would be the envy of the world.
It was dubbed the Egret (for Earth’s tallest crane), and it weighed nearly a tonne, making it the world first ever machine to break the record for the tallest crane.
Its enormous weight forced the crane operator to jump off the roof of a building to avoid a falling crane.
It also led to the development of new techniques for stabilising large objects, such as ships, which is how the crane was built.
“In the future, this crane could support the weight of a Boeing 747, or the weight that would be lifted off a large building,” Professor Shiro Nakagawa, the research director at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, told the BBC.
“This was one of the most ambitious and significant projects in history.”
A new kind of craneThe Egret was built to hold two heavy weights that were to be suspended by cables from the ground, using a technique called hydrostatic balancing, to create the illusion of gravity.
“The idea of this is that you put two heavy objects on the ground and they balance in the air,” Mr Nakagawas research director said.
“When you lift one of them, it balances on the other object.”
It is not a very complicated technique.
It is basically a system where you have two people working together to make the balance.
“You need two people to balance one heavy object on a cable, but the second person has to lift that cable.”
In theory, this means the crane would work at a speed of 50 metres per second, or about six times the speed of sound.
But when the Egrets first flew in May, they were able to lift only 2.3 tonnes.
Its creators, the researchers at the Technical University of Denmark, were keen to test their technology on a real crane.
They put the Egreb on the roof at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries factory in Aarhus, Denmark, on May 10.
It lifted a total of 16 tonnes and carried them to the factory for assembly.
“We had two days of testing, and we didn’t get anything to show,” Professor Nakagaws research director, Shiro Nishizawa, told AFP news agency.
“I don’t think the engineers were satisfied with what we had.”
The Egreb will continue to fly for another year before it is dismantled and shipped to a factory in France.
It has already lifted 1,000 tonnes, making the machine the world record holder for the heaviest crane, but that has not deterred some of the engineers who have been working on the project.
“A lot of engineers who worked on the Egretta have said that it was the biggest crane they had ever seen,” Professor Nishizaws research and development director, Dr Shiro Matsubara, told AP news agency (AP: Jens Pohl).
“It’s been quite a journey to get this thing to the end, and I am quite happy that it has been successful.”
A final test of the Egertorpeis suspension systemThe Egrettas suspension system is designed to keep the crane upright and not break the rig.
It is used in construction projects and for a number of other tasks.
“If you look at the suspension system, it is made up of four components: the base of the crane, the two horizontal stabilisers and the three vertical stabilisers.”
Each of the components has a specific purpose, so it has to be designed to work with the system in the way it works,” Mr Matsubaras research and innovation director said, adding that the suspension has been “perfectly stable” for many years.
The Egrets suspension system can be seen in action at the factory