In the late summer of 2009, a spectacular video began circulating the internet known as Megawoosh. Many of my students sent me this video, wondering whether or not it could be true, or whether it was digitally faked.

As it turns out, the video was revealed to be part of a viral marketing campaign for Microsoft Germany, and was in fact digitally composed. But the question still remained: could the stunt have been done in real life?

The answer is a resounding yes and I promised to show my students later in the semester, after we got to the chapters on WORK and ENERGY, since these concepts would enable a tractable calculation.

The Demo

The demonstration consists of a Hot Wheels car track, shown below. It begins with a long ramp, and ends with a shorter ejection ramp, as in the Megawoosh video.

The most important part of the demo is that you calculate where to place the small pool target you are trying to hit with the car. As part of the demo, I have a live running Mathematica notebook running that lets me recalculate based on measurements made in the class.

The basic physics is this:

  • Measure the starting height (69" for my upper ramp), and ending height (25.5" for my lower ramp). About 12 feet of track is used over the entire run.
  • Use the conservation of energy to compute the exit speed of the car when it leaves the lower ramp. In this case, I include a term for the effect of friction to account for lost energy as the car descends the ramp.
  • With the ramp exit speed, and the angle of the ramp, I use two dimensional kinematics (projectile motion) to determine the distance the car flies before hitting the ground. I place my target at this distance.
Here are a few images of the setup. Click on pictures for a larger view!

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Video of the entire explanation and experiment. Double click to start videos.

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