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What is a Perpetual Motion Machine?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Perpetual motion machines are devices which operate under the principle of sustained or perpetual motion. That is, the machine will continue to perform a function repeatedly without stopping or requiring any type of human interaction. The motion is understood to take place by circumventing the various laws of thermodynamics and continuing to function as long as no outward influences interfered with the process.

In theory, perpetual motion can be understood to be in line with the science of physics. As an example, two objects in orbit around one another could conceivably remain in a perpetual state of orbit as long as no third object was introduced into the orbital cycle. At that point, the orbits would be impacted in some manner and could possibly alter the balance to the point that one object would slip out of the orbit.

A perpetual motion machine would attempt to either create energy from nothing or convert energy into work in some manner. Often, the idea of the water screw or siphon is held up as an example of a perpetual motion machine. However, in both cases, there is the need for some type of energy to trigger the phenomenon and some type of resources required to sustain the action. The ability to be self sustaining is not inherent to the design.

Still, many attempts have been made to create a perpetual motion machine that demonstrates the concept of sustaining motion. Basic plans to create a machine that sustains motion indefinitely can be found in writings reaching back to the 12th century. While the topic held a great deal of interest among scientists and academics for many centuries, there appears to have been waning interest after the dawn of the 20th century, as attention focused more on the creation of new technology to meet the needs of a changing world.

While the concept of a perpetual motion machine continues to be an item of casual interest, the idea of building such a machine tends to capture the attention of eccentrics and visionaries more than the scientists and engineers of today. From time to time, reports of the creation of a perpetual motion machine captures some media attention, then eventually fade into obscurity.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006485 — On Mar 21, 2022

Rivers run perpetually. All rivers drop in elevation over distance.

A siphon works by the force of gravity acting on a closed airtight conduit.

A large long siphon pipeline would supply water continuously from a river.

By anon337183 — On Jun 03, 2013

Perpetual motion is possible, if we consider curved space time, but this factor is never considered, and it would not break the laws of thermodynamics. --Peter

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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