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The perpetual mobile: Still an impossible challenge for modern innovation?

A machine that never stops, without any source of energy to feed the movement: It is a dream that we, as inventors, have been trying to fulfil for thousands of years. The reason is pretty simple: It would be a tremendous breakthrough, and the response to a lot of our current problems. Even if it is an impossible concept, we can extract valuable innovation lessons from the history of the quest for perpetual motion.

The perpetual mobile is a hypothetical machine that would certainly change our industrial vision. Theoretically, we are talking about a device able to function eternally –after an initial impulse– without requiring any additional external energy, based on the idea of energy conservation.

It would be great, wouldn’t it? Over the centuries, countless scientists have fantasized about this concept, creating machines that are supposed to achieve perpetual motion. The idea has attracted fortune seekers, idealists, amateur mechanics, engineers, swindlers and, of course, scientific geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Villard de Honnecourt, Bhaskara II or Johann Bernoulli, among many others. At Protec Arisawa, curiosity and innovation are in our DNA, and we have made a modest yet interesting research on this subject.

First of all, a little bit of Physics

To this day, none of this kind of devices is really functional in scientific terms. All were doomed to failure. Why does Physics claim that such a machine is not viable? Here is the explanation: The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can be converted from one form to another with the interaction of heat, work and internal energy, but it cannot be created nor destroyed, under any circumstances.

But, the statement that finally knocks-out any debate –even if some “mad” scientist managed to avoid the First Law and did not need any kind of external energy– is the Second Law. This physical principle states that, in practice, entropy always increases, so when heat and friction are generated due to movement, the invariable original energy will decrease, so a perpetual motion device will eventually stop.

An impossible-to-build machine?

Nevertheless, the idea of a “perpetual motion machine” has been an irresistibly attractive concept to humanity for centuries. Today, we can find on the Internet thousands of mechanics projects and devices claiming to have successfully achieved the perpetual movement utopia. The truth is that many of them are really amazing, and it is hard to guess if there really is any trick or treat.

However, someone once claimed to have achieved this objective, obtaining perhaps the most recognised success in perpetual mobile design. It was Johann Ernst Elias Bessler, better known as “Orffyreus”, a German entrepreneur born in Saxony in 1680. Around 1712, he started to exhibit a series of apparently self-propelled wheels in various sizes. His gadgets attracted lots of attention but were commonly branded as fraudulent.

Foto Bessler

Three years later, Orffyreus built a larger machine, which was two meters in diameter. He presented it to a committee of scientists and eminent academics. After examining the machine for almost two months, a certificate was issued proclaiming that it was an authentic continuous motion machine, capable of lifting a 30-kg load. However, many enemies of Orffyreus despised this report, and kept denouncing his invention as a fraud.

Exasperated by the mistrust his machine was inspiring, Bessler wanted to prove its authenticity. In this case, several historical accounts state that in October 1717 the wheel was moved to a room at Weissenstein Castle, in Bavaria, far from any surrounding wall and set so that everyone could walk around the device. Once the machine was put into motion, the room was sealed. Two weeks later, the seals were opened and the wheel was still spinning. The room was resealed and remained so until January 1718. And guess what, when they opened the doors, the wheel was still turning.


A professional suicide

Unfortunately, the continuous judgement led Johan Bessler to believe that everything was a ploy to steal the secrets of his wheel. In one of the most remarkable acts of self-destruction in History, he broke his wheel into pieces in a paranoid fit of rage.

After this professional suicide, Orffyreus disappeared from the public scene. Years later, some sources mentioned that he was working on a new revolutionary machine, but it never came to light. Bessler died in ostracism in 1745, after falling from a windmill he was building.

Even if Johann Bessler’s machine was not a genuine perpetual motion device, it was undoubtedly an original and efficient design. Could we use these energy conservation principles to develop new sustainable solutions for all kinds of industrial sectors?

At Protec Arisawa, we believe that innovation is the key to achieve the best solutions in our field. Today, we are global leaders in designing and manufacturing FRP pressure vessels for water purification. As engineers, we are convinced that our mission is to accept great challenges, in order to achieve greater success. We may not be able to build an authentic continuous motion machine, but Protec is definitely a perpetual innovation company.