Demonstration of perpetual motion machine, well, grinds to halt

Published 11 July 2007

Irish security company planned to demonstrate a perpetual motion machine last week; demonstration delayed owing to problems

Achieving perpetuum mobile — perpetual motion — has been the dream of scientists since time immemorial. Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us that, at least theoretically, it is possible to achieve perpetual motion, that is, movement that goes on forever. When we try to implement this concept in real life, however, things become more complicated. To achieve perpetual motion we would need to build a device or system which would store and emit more energy than is put into it, but this would be in violation of the law of Conservation of Energy, which states that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant. The most conventional type of perpetual motion machine would a mechanical system which (supposedly) sustains motion at the same time that it inevitably loses energy to friction and air resistance.

So much for the law of Conservation of Energy (and, if you insist, the First Law of Thermodynamics). Dublin, Ireland-based Steorn, an Irish technology firm which has in the past focused on security and fraud detection, has produced what, by the company’s own admission, must surely be the end-all of the laws of thermodynamics: A machine that creates free power. The company promised to demonstrate it last week, but there was a problem: It did not work. The company said it suspected that the problem was the result of camera lighting.

TechNewsWorld’s Chris Mexcer writes that Steorn claims it can produce free, clean and constant energy without taking the energy from an external source. In effect, the company claims it has produced an energy-making machine it calls Orbo. Despite apparently violating fundamental laws of physics, Steorn planned to demonstrate its machine to the public Wednesday at —where else — the Kinetica Museum gallery in London (if you happen to go to London this summer, the museum is located at the SP2 Pavilion at Old Spitalfields Market).

Orbo’s technology is based on the interaction of magnetic fields. The exhibit on display was supposed to demonstrate work being done by the spinning of a clear polycarbonate wheel with no recourse to external energy; furthermore, the company claims that Orbo technology is fully scalable and can be applied to virtually all devices requiring energy, from cellular phones to cars. Sean McCarthy, CEO of Steorn, said that “We’ve decided to demonstrate our Orbo technology in a global and public forum to raise greater awareness amongst the product development community. We want to give equal access to developers so they can use this technology to power products that will bring benefits to everyone. Ultimately, it’s also a reminder to the world that this free energy technology is being validated and will definitely happen” (the comments were made before the demonstration).

Steorn is not a newcomer to the security field, having worked on technologies that address plastic card fraud and optical disc fraud. Last year, Steorn placed an ad in the Economist, issuing a challenge to the world’s scientific community to step forward and prove the company’s claims about perpetual motion were wrong. Of the thousands of applicants, the company appointed twenty-two to test the claims made on behalf of the technology. The review process began in January and is still ongoing.

What does the scientific establishment think? “If it’s true, then all of our problems are solved, but I would think that’s not going to happen,” John Belcher, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with expertise in electromagnetism. “Electromagnetism is one of the most studied theories, and people understand very well how energy is conserved, how energy flows around a system , and I would say it’s just impossible unless they really found something absolutely, incredibly new,” he said.

He added: “If they’ve come up with something new, they are a lot brighter than a lot of other very bright people. I mean, I would be delighted if it were true, and I would just retire and we would all live happily ever after. But I don’t think it’s going to be true.”