Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What We Can Learn From The Lunatic Fringe?

From WorldChanging:

We've all heard claims of green inventions that are too good to be true: the zero-point energy generator, the water-powered car, the device for talking with dolphins to achieve world peace.

Sometimes they amuse us; sometimes they confuse us, as we try to determine whether they're legitimate or not; and sometimes they just annoy us. But can they ever help us?

Yes: by keeping our imaginations open, and by honing our evaluation skills -- skills which are useful both when deciding between existing technologies, and when thinking about technologies on the horizon.

Some high-quality nutball vaporware that has crossed my desk in the last year or two includes:

  • The guy selling kits and manuals for "how to run your car on zero-point energy". (Zero point energy is always a favorite with the perpetual motion crowd.)
  • The water-powered car (or at least water-powered welding) was a huge media hit, even getting onto mainstream papers and TV stations.
  • The Beck Mickle Hydro waterwheel supposedly generates 1-2 KW of power from just a 20cm drop in a stream; many smart people I know were excited about it, but someone on PES Wiki ran the numbers and calculated that there isn't 1 or 2 kW in streams that small to begin with.
  • Steorn's Orbo has a classy, professional website, but with zero content, and a planned demonstration was called off at the eleventh hour.
  • The "gear turbine" engine is such a mess I don't even know what to say about it.
  • And of course, there's everybody's favorite, cold fusion.

(By the way, if anyone wants to share particularly fun lunatic fringe inventions in the comments, go for it!)

Most of these inventors have notoriously poor spelling and grammar...MORE (plus some funny comments)