By on July 19, 2005

Perpetual motion. Square wheels. Welcome to The Museum of Unworkable Devices:

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.

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  1. The page on machines is amazing. Animate all the models, and you’ll see a common thread of people trying to play God, in a way.

    Essentially you have people trying to make a wheel turn forever, by doing everything they can to make the downward edge produce more downforce than the upward edge.

    So, they’re trying to get something for free — energy. If they can get the wheel to turn forever with a little extra force, then they can bleed off the extra force as rotational movement and use it for something. It ain’t gonna happen, sadly.

    I can’t remember the exact reference (it’s either a law of thermodynamics or something about “entropy”), but the bottom line is that we’re expending energy in this universe, and we can never create it. We can release energy that is stored, but we can never create it out of thin air.

    It’s really sad, when you think about it. We’re slowly rolling downhill, and there’s no way to stop.

  2. Isn’t that kind of contrary to the whole “matter (energy) is neither created, nor destroyed…” theory?

  3. Well, the Wikipedia article on the Laws of Thermodynamics wasn’t too clear, but if I remember high-school physics correctly:

    Law 1: You never get more work out than the energy you put in. Law 2: You never get as much work out than the energy you put in.

    Actually, there’s this hilarious “Dr. Science” sketch in Young Pups 3 that deals with entropy and the eventual heat-death of the universe.

  4. Law 2: You never get as much work out than the energy you put in.

    Yes, this is what I’m getting at. Everything consumes energy, and that energy is gone.

    For instance, the wheel. They can get it turning for a long time, but eventually it’s going to stop because of (guessing here — I’m no physicist):

    1. friction on the axle
    2. air resistance as it turned

    Those two things, however small, would eventually stop the wheel. The axle would probably heat up a bit, as the friction is converted to heat, and you could conceivably capture that energy, but not all of it. And you could put ultra-sensitive windmills around the wheel to try and capture energy from the displaced air as the wheel turns, but you’re not going to get all of that either.

    The bottom line is that you would need an exact, perfect, 100% transfer of energy from the “downside” of the wheel to the “upside” in order for the downside to power the upside into eternity. And the friction and air resistance won’t let that happen.

    The only option is to make the downside generate more force than the upside consumes, which is what all these models are trying to do.

    Proof that I wasn’t a science major: I don’t know why those models don’t work. I’m looking at them and thinking, “That’s brilliant. Why aren’t we using this?” I know they can’t work, but I don’t know why. They certainly look like they would work.

  5. They have a great dicussion on this page…


    …of what they term “The ‘heavier on one side’ seduction,” which is essentially what I was so impressed by. They say, in part:

    Newton’s third law ensures that all internal forces in a system sum to zero, and all internal torques do also. If the system is to move, some external source must supply force or torque. A system with unbalanced torque from external sources moves toward a position where the torques will become zero. That’s a position where the system will be in static equilibrium. Typically the system will oscillate around that position, slowing down gradually to rest as its initial stored energy dissipates and it comes to rest.

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