You might’ve started baking bread during the pandemic, but one Canadian used the lockdown to invent propeller-powered ice skates.
With the device strapped to his back, Brydon Gibson can coast across the iced-over Ottawa River at speeds of up to 25 mph.
The gas-powered contraption is powered by a weed whacker engine, but has few safety features and no real brakes.
The only way Gibson can stop himself is with a kill switch he describes as ‘finicky.’
Currently, the pack requires a second person to start the propeller by hand, ‘like they did on the old planes.’ Gibson’s friend Paolo Campanaro has helped him launch and also tested out the pack himself
Gibson was puttering around with some weed-trimmer motors last year, ‘and I figured strapping one on my back and making skating a little bit lazier would [be] a good idea,’ he told the CBC.
Attaching a 15-inch propeller to a crude wooden frame, he used the brake handle and cable from a 10-speed bike to fashion a throttle, then added straps from a dollar store backpack.
The 13-pound device doesn’t have proper brakes, just a kill switch Gibson describes as ‘finicky.’
‘I was actually getting a little scared at one point because I was going a little too fast,’ he said.
There’s no cage [around the propeller], there’s no anything,’ he added. ‘This is just a prototype. Eventually maybe I’ll add some safety, but not right now.’
Gibson has always been a tinkerer, starting with remote-controlled boats and airplanes.
He’s since graduated to more sophisticated machinery, including an electric-propulsion device he constructed in his parents’ basement and even a homemade hovercraft.
‘Ever since I was a kid … I’ve been taking apart things I found on the side of the road, making a mess of my parents’ basement, spreading electronics everywhere.’
Though he’s avoided major catastrophes with his creations, Gibson admits, ‘it’s kind of gotten me into some rough scenarios. I’ve almost lost a finger.’
His passions led him to major in computer systems engineering at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
After graduation Gibson got a job with Blackberry QNX, which focuses on autonomous driving technology.
Like many, he’s been working from home during lockdown with limited options for socializing.
‘Spare time with COVID, [and] not seeing anyone?’ he said. ‘I’m doing this instead.’
Right now his skates are pretty low-tech, but he says he’d to soup them up a lot.
‘Bigger propeller, more thrust, more speed, more fun,’ he told the CBC.
Gibson also needs to address the system’s biggest design flaw: It requires a second person to start it off.
‘When it’s strapped to your back you can’t reach the propeller to start it,’ he explains. ‘You just spin the propeller by hand the old fashioned way, like they did on the old planes.’
So far, he’s gotten his mother, sister and friend Paolo Campanaro to try out the device, too.
‘Ever since I met him, he’s always had these crazy inventions going on,’ Campanaro, who’s operated as Gibson’s ‘wing man’ on test flights, said. ‘He’s my genius friend.’
The 21-year-old compares using the pack to ‘skating without doing any work.’
‘It’s kind of nice to not have to use any leg muscles while you’re going down the river pretty fast. It’s just a unique invention we can all have a blast on.’