Donald Simanek is a physics professor at Lock Haven University and a writer for MAKE! magazine. He has quite a bit of interesting information on his LHU WWW page. Something I found entertaining is his Museum of Unworkable Devices. As Donald puts it in the intro to his museum,
This museum is a celebration of fascinating devices that don’t work. It houses diverse examples of the perverse genius of inventors who refused to let their thinking be intimidated by the laws of nature, remaining optimistic in the face of repeated failures. Watch and be amazed as we bring to life eccentric and even intricate perpetual motion machines that have remained steadfastly unmoving since their inception. Marvel at the ingenuity of the human mind, as it reinvents the square wheel in all of its possible variations. Exercise your mind to puzzle out exactly why they don’t work as the inventors intended.
Simanek has searched out interesting examples of perpetual motion machines, some of which date back to the 13th century. The overbalanced wheel figures prominently in these early designs, a design that uses folding hammers, levers, vials of mercury, moving balls, and other attachments that ensure there is always “more” weight on the downward side of a rotating wheel than on the upward side.
In the “Basement Mechanic’s guide to Perpetual Motion Machine” Simanek showcases a few of these designs that he has built using Erector Sets (none provide perpetual motion), and provides links to versions that others have built. Some perpetual motion machines are designed and built with extraordinary care and precision and qualify as works of mechanical art. The same could be said for Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings of perpetual motion machines (Da Vinci considered and rejected all of the designs). Simanek has collected photos of some of these on the “Unworkable devices as fine art” page.
The US Patent office supposedly has a policy of not approving perpetual motion machines. However a quick search using the term “perpetual motion” turns up plenty of patents that feature the phrase in the title or the claims. The photo shows one that I happened to run across years ago.
Emil T Hartman was awarded patent 4215330 for this device in 1980. It’s been a while since I read through the claims but my recollection is that while he describes a perpetual motion machine, no where in the claims does he call it that. Even so Donovan F. Duggan, primary patent examiner at the US Patent Office, should be ashamed for not denying a patent on this device. In this device magnets are arranged along an inclined plane in such a way that the magnetic flux is more dense at the top of the plane than at the bottom. A steel ball is pulled up the track into the denser magnetic flux at the top, and when it reaches the top it falls down, potentially into another track that circles around and allows the ball to re-enter the magnetic field at the bottom. I have to admit that I was initially puzzled by this machine — what would keep it from working as described?
Do you know the answer? Leave a comment below if so.