“Over Unity” devices have been in the news lately, and I think that they deserve a good amount of skepticism.

Steorn:

I’ve written about one promise of “Free Energy” by the commercial company Steorn  over in my blog.  In 2007 Steorn’s dramatic exhibition of a machine that promised free energy could have been called disappointing, except for the fact that they happened pretty much in the way everyone expected.  The exhibition was an abject failure, and Steorn blamed the ambient energy of camera lighting for the failure of the first experiment.  Steorn claims the second experiment in Dublin 2009 was successful, except for the fact that there was no actual demonstration of over-unity.  

From the beginning, Steorn started raising investment money.  Before their first demonstration Steorn had raised over ten million dollars.

In 2009 Steorn announced their first salable products – devices and software aimed at the perpetual energy hobbyist community that would allow garage experimenters to better measure the energy output of their carefully built devices.  One device was based on a Hall-effect sensor, and another was based on a torque sensor.  The devices looked expensive and very technical, and the prices were only listed to those vetted subscribers of the Steorn website.

Early 2009 Steorn also announced that its over unity machine, the “Orbo” was due out by the end of the year.  And then except for announcements of losing a lot of money and claims of inventing overunity devices that they sold to other companies – who haven’t turned them into actual products – Steorn announced that the long-awaited Orbo would be shipping.  And that the Orbo was actually the “Ocube” a huge brick of a cell-phone charger.  They also announced the OPhone, a cell phone that never needs to be recharged.

Although some people have said that they’ve received the Ocube, I’ve yet to see if anyone has ordered or received the OPhone.  The Ocube is priced at over $1,300 US dollars, and currently you can only order them through email.  Quantities are limited.  So far there are no testimonials available for the Ocube, but there is one in-depth test and take-apart.  In a nutshell, most of the interior of the Ocube is filled with potting epoxy, making the components inaccessible.   The results of the testing are not impressive.  In a nutshell, the first unit “broke” and the second unit doesn’t work.  And now customers are being told that shipments are on hold due to a bad charge controller board.

From Steorn’s past performance in regards to delays, it is very possible that we will see this product delayed for a very long time.

More importantly, Steorn is courting investors again and raised over 2.1 million dollars at the end of 2015.  They are also licensing their technology to manufacturers in the consumer electronics market.  They did this 3 years ago with their HephaHeat hot water heater project, but no product has appeared on the market at this time.

EM Drive:

The EM Drive is another “free lunch” project that is actually being tested by that portion of NASA that is dedicated to testing controversial and futuristic space propulsion.  Researchers at NASA’s Advanced Propulsion Physics Laboratory have confirmed that research into the EM Drive is “Not Dead”.  

Unlike a regular rocket, which moves forward by expelling mass out of a nozzle, the proposed “RF resonate cavity thruster” produces microwaves that are directed into a specially shaped box, toward a non-conductive target that is supposed to resonate in tune with the microwave frequency.  Somehow this produces an asymmetrical force on the box, propelling it in one direction.

In a way, this is a sort of “cartoon physics”.  Imagine Wile E. Coyote standing inside a box holding a machine gun aimed at a solid target on the side of the box.  As he fires his gun, the bullets hit the target, transferring momentum to the box and causing it to glide forward.

Unfortunately this breaks a law in physics.  (That coyote is such a lawbreaker!).  Newton’s laws of motion say that forces are equal and opposite, which implies that within a closed system (like a box) the total momentum is constant.  In other words, the force gained at the target by the bullet hitting the target is canceled by the force of the gun’s kickback on the Coyote – which is then transferred back to the box through the Coyote’s resistance to falling down while shooting.

(Force forward) – (force kickback) = zero sum force.  Which means no change in the overall momentum of the box.  And it really doesn’t matter what shape the box is, or how the bullet ricochets, the math inside the box still works out to zero.  

But NASA has scientists who are willing, in true scientific form, to actually test the claims made by the inventor.  In this case, aerospace engineer Roger Shawyer.  Shawyer claims that the law doesn’t matter, the EM Drive just works!  And he’s provided a testable design.

And NASA is testing this drive, as good scientists should.  And maybe they’ll find that the drive does work as claimed.  If they do, we will need to re-write our understanding of a branch of physics that we thought was well understood.