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What Do You Know About Perpetual Motion?

Perpetual Motion -a book by Percy Verance about all failed attempts to make self-powered machines.Throughout history there has been many attempts to built a perpetual motion machine. It is a great dream, no doubt. A venture like this requires a lot of tenacity and many many hours of building artifacts, linkages, almost always by trial and error.

Those perpetual motion seekers are not always alone, much less ignored. Even some patents for such machines have been granted in the United Kingdom and in the United States; believe it or not.

What is perpetual motion?

We can see perpetual motion in the everyday activities: the sea waves are always moving, the planets never stop traveling around the Sun, the big rivers never stop pouring water into the oceans. Those are some examples of "perpetual" motion --from the standpoint of our limited existence. However, Percy Verance's effort in his book "Perpetual Motion" is to collect almost all documented intent and effort of the humankind (at least from the European world) to make a working non-stopping machine. That's why his book is full of illustrated examples of water fountains, magnetic artifacts; anything that can run forever without stopping.

The author clearly states that the book is about "self-motive" machines: artifacts that once given an initial impetus --stimulus, or impulsion--- will continually self-sustain, that is, those artifacts should be capable of generating the energy needed to feed itself back to keep running.

A self-motive or self-propelled device can somewhat complicated artifact like this Archimedes Water Screw, or the simple but deceiving Capra's device, shown below.

The Archimedes Water Screw as a perpetual motion device. Capra's overbalancing wheel as an ettempt to create a never stopping device.

The Archimedes Water Screw should pump water upwards by the impulse of the falling water. The Capra's Wheel should work by the overbalancing spheres that keeps it turning.

Recovered energy as free energy

Because of the failed attempts in the past, in modern times the same ventures are no longer tagged as "perpetual" but as overunity devices; artifacts with a energy efficiency grater that 1.0. An energy efficiency greater than 1.0 implies that we could be generating more energy than the energy the device is consuming. This is considered a violation of the long established laws of thermodynamics.

In some cases, like the electric cars, the braking energy is converted back to electricity to recharge the batteries. Other instances of recovering energy otherwise lost is when the shock absorbers in a car or truck are also used to recharge the automobile batteries. Note that in recovering energy lost we are leaving out the solar power provided by solar panels because solar power is not power lost by the automobile. Solar power comes from an external source.

Perpetual motion: the free EBook

Learn more about the historical attempts to make machines that should be self-powered. The author says:

It is believed by the author that the perusal of the present volume by anyone whose mind has been attracted by the subject of Perpetual Motion will result in an enlightenment, and, it is also believed, will have a tendency to direct his mind from a struggle with theories long ago exploded, and may result in directing his efforts to things practical, and not without hope of attainment.

Is the making of a self-propelled machine really impossible?

Let's quote this words from Percy's book:

When, less than a century ago, it was proposed to propel a ship across the Atlantic ocean by steampower, Ignatius Lardner, a scientific teacher, lecturer and interpreter of real note and merit wrote a book “demonstrating” the physical impossibility of a vessel carrying enough fuel to propel itself through that distance of water. The book was actually printed, but was scarcely off the press until the first steamship had successfully crossed the Atlantic with steampower, and steamed triumphantly into port.

But the author has more to say about the impossible dreams:

After communication by electric telegraph was well established and had been in successful commercial use for decades, it was proposed to converse by long distance over a wire. The idea was hooted and declared impossible, and it did seem so, and yet today, there is scarcely a farm house in the nation but what has an instrument by which the occupants can talk over wires not only to their near-by neighbors, but to remote cities.

Of course, those were mere opinions of influential people at those times; they were not invoking any physical law to argue against the steam ships traveling across the ocean, neither against long distance communication.

Since then the thermodynamics field is a well-established field in physics and in applied mathematics. The laws of thermodynamics are the real enemy of the perpetual machines.

However, today things are different. The new field of quantum  mechanics is bringing us surprises everyday; specially in the behavior of the long established physical laws. So, who knows? Maybe deep in the minuscule world of quantum physics a surprise is waiting for us and a quantum device is perpetually turning ...


The museum of unworkable devices is full of illustrations and physical explanations why those overunity and perpetual movement never work.

The article Perpetual motion in Wikipedia is an excellent source of notes and further references for the more interested reader.

E. Pérez

Perpetual motion machine Video: Perpetual motion machine