How woodpecker’s perfect skull helped improve black boxes

Do you know why woodpeckers don’t get concussions? It was so effective that it inspired engineers to perfect the designs for airplane black boxes.
Interesting Engineering

Black boxes are important devices in an aircraft. Before commercial flights become successful, there has been a lot of trial and error in its early years which included several reviews of data regarding plane crashes and how to avoid them. 

If a plane crashes, there’s really not much to study anymore that could allow experts to review what caused a plane to crash and how to avoid it. This is where a black box becomes important. It’s a device that is used to store flight records and cockpit voice records, which would be helpful in understanding why a plane crashed. 

Black boxes are actually colored bright orange in most models to make them easier to find in a crash site. The most important thing about a black box is that it is designed to withstand impact, with standard models enduring up to 1000 g’s. To give you an idea of how durable it is, a football player who gets tackled on the field can already get a concussion with just a force of 90 g’s.

As we know, humans tend to develop things with the help of technology, to either have a new method of doing things or to improve existing systems that we have. This is why a newer black box prototype is also developed to be able to withstand more than the standard as an improvement and this new design is inspired by a fascinating creature in nature - the woodpecker. 

Woodpeckers are small birds and from the name itself, they are known to peck wood. When these birds peck wood, they can do it up to 20 times per second, with each peck having a force of 1200 g's. Woodpeckers are able to endure this much force because of their amazing physiology.

The first line of defense against such force is their unique beaks. Next is the hyoid bone behind their beaks which diverse the vibrations away. Lastly and most important is their soft and spongy skull which reduced the vibrations and impacts on the bird’s brain. 

From here, a new black box prototype was designed according to the woodpecker’s physiology and it allowed the new design to survive impacts even up to 60.000 g’s in some cases. 

Who would have predicted that this small bird would be the key to creating something durable like the new black box design? Perhaps in the future,  the integration of the woodpecker’s physiology in black boxes could also be used in other things to make them more durable.