Perpetual Motion – Spoiler Alert!

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Perpetual Motion – Spoiler Alert!

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By: Steve Fitz
Technology Director

5th April 2017

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When I was at school, I decided to build a perpetual motion machine; here’s how it worked: A motor shaft drives a generator that then produces electricity – enough to drive the motor and hopefully power my house as well. So after some rummaging around, I found a bike-light generator and a toy model motor. I then spent quite a lot of time working out how to connect the shafts together, stop it all flapping about wildly and etc. Eventually, I had a nice simple coupling made from a piece of plastic tubing and all was set.

Perpetual-MachineIt did not work. It did not even slightly work. Well, obviously the problem is that the motor is not powerful enough to drive the generator – we need a bigger motor. After more rummaging, I found a much bigger motor and coupled it all together – I was getting quite good at that now – and waited for unlimited free electricity to appear. Hang on, maybe the generator is not making enough electricity to drive the motor – we need a bigger generator….

You might say if only I had known about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I could have wasted a bit less of my life in a shed. But it wasn’t fruitless, I learned something important about the nature of things and there have been other occasions when my inclination to ignore received wisdom has had a more positive outcome. In fact, it may not be pushing it too far to say that all innovation requires a certain level of ignorance of, or disregard for, the many reasons why it will not or cannot work. Maybe that is why young people often seem better at it than the more experienced. Certainly, as a senior staff member in a business like ours, we must be careful not to be too ready with the cold light of reality when someone is sharing a bit of their warm, fuzzy vision.

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When I was at school, I decided to build a perpetual motion machine; here’s how it worked: A motor shaft drives a generator that then produces electricity – enough to drive the motor and hopefully power my house as well. So after some rummaging around, I found a bike-light generator and a toy model motor. I then spent quite a lot of time working out how to connect the shafts together, stop it all flapping about wildly and etc. Eventually, I had a nice simple coupling made from a piece of plastic tubing and all was set.

Perpetual-MachineIt did not work. It did not even slightly work. Well, obviously the problem is that the motor is not powerful enough to drive the generator – we need a bigger motor. After more rummaging, I found a much bigger motor and coupled it all together – I was getting quite good at that now – and waited for unlimited free electricity to appear. Hang on, maybe the generator is not making enough electricity to drive the motor – we need a bigger generator….

You might say if only I had known about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I could have wasted a bit less of my life in a shed. But it wasn’t fruitless, I learned something important about the nature of things and there have been other occasions when my inclination to ignore received wisdom has had a more positive outcome. In fact, it may not be pushing it too far to say that all innovation requires a certain level of ignorance of, or disregard for, the many reasons why it will not or cannot work. Maybe that is why young people often seem better at it than the more experienced. Certainly, as a senior staff member in a business like ours, we must be careful not to be too ready with the cold light of reality when someone is sharing a bit of their warm, fuzzy vision.

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