“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

107 thoughts on ““Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

    1. The drone isn’t a required part of this build it’s just a convenient easy way of lofting the wire. A balloon or a tower could do the same work but are much harder to experiment with compared to just flying the multirotor up and down.

      Also what the hell is “DNWTFW”?

        1. Ben “not a smoking hole in the ground” Franklin was famous for doing many alive things after that “experiment”, so it only really makes sense that it was a thought experiment.

          I suppose the story sounds better if he’s out risking his life needlessly, but even back then people realised lightning would kill you. Since he understood the idea of lightning being conducted down wire, that being the point of the experiment, it would have been deliberate suicide if he’d actually done it.

          Interesting lesson in memetics though. Even if it’s not the only case of folk history being wrong. In fact folk history is always wrong! In real life, George Washington never saw a cherry tree, and he didn’t have a father.
          He was born parthenogenetically from his mother, a lizard living in human form.

    1. Sounds like his friend with the working ‘copter was the good short-term solution since it’s going to be easier to loft and retrieve. Once the altitude and electrodes are figured out from that, the balloon will provide a very stable platform for more subtle tinkering though.

      1. That’s pretty much it. I didn’t feel comfortable lifting a wire by balloon (or kite) for fear of it breaking low down and having that wire land on power lines or other equipment in the city somewhere. When I was a kid I flew a kite to these altitudes and had the string break on me near the bottom. After going some distance the resulting string ended up stretched across treetops for quite a distance ( I lived in a small town in the middle of nowhere back then). Having done these quad tests, and having the wire not break, I feel more comfortable doing a balloon test. A connection to the wire at the top did break during one flight, but that lesson’s learned. Next summer maybe.

          1. You could perhaps use something like the Otis elevator emergency brake.

            If tension is lost, from the wire pulling downwards, a spring causes a mechanism to pop the balloon.

            It wouldn’t be as easy as an elevator, since the tension on a balloon string isn’t as great, or as constant, as an elevator car. I imagine the wire sort-of drifts and bobs about a bit. Then again that depends on how heavy the wire is, and how big the balloon is. Perhaps it could be as simple as a spring that pushes a pin into the balloon. The spring is stretched, and the pin pulled down away from the balloon, by the string under it. If the string goes, the spring is released, the balloon goes POP!

            It’s an idea. Might be the start of something practical, or at least half-practical!

            Anyway… awesome hack! Must be amazing, even though you understand it, to see a motor spinning powered by what looks like nothing. What actually IS just the atmosphere! Bleeding off lightning from the sky.

  1. Atmospheric electricity is why it is vitally important for people to ground out external antennas when they are not in use. I’ve seen sparks nearly an inch long come off the end of the coax from my VHF antenna, and it’s only 25 feet up!

    1. I don’t have to ground out my VHF or UHF antennas, as my antennas are always grounded while in use. I use J pole antennas that are not only grounded all the time, but are a direct short as well outside of the resonant frequencies. Plus they work a lot better than other types when made from copper water pipe as their Q is really wide.

      now my long wire HF antennas are a different story, but a good antenna tuner will let you park the antennas to a grounded terminal. Also make sure all your antenna leads make a 180 degree turn before they enter the home. Go down the tower or post, make a tight 180 back up then in the home as lightning will not go past the 180 turn and simply leap out of the coax at that point. Works best if the 180 turn happens very close to the ground, then into the arrester and then into the home.

      1. Electricity can’t turn corners? Really? A spark gap near the ground is fine, but the 180 degree thing… Is it something to do with lightning being high-frequency resonant AC? Cos I thought it was DC. How’s that supposed to work?

        1. I’m not a lightning expert. However, it has more to do with ground potentials and insulation. Standard insulation will effectively just be a resistor to the multimillion volt lightning pulse. As lightning is “seeking” earth ground, the 180 degree turn puts part of the conductor closer to ground, so if the rest of your system has a much higher impedence, the bulk energy will leave the cable and go towards real ground. There’s a lot of IF’s in there I can’t personally qualify, however. This is one case where really good electrical insulation will hurt you.

      2. For something that is jumping through an air gap of kilometers, does that 180 degrees of a coax makes a difference? The amount of the current flow really depends on the impedance of the path. What it doesn’t do is to make a binary Yes/No decision where it wants to go. There can still be small portion of that multiple thousands of amps current going down your coax.
        So hope you still have additional protections down your coax and that it is not an actual lightning strike on your antenna.

      3. I think this 180 degree turn is generally done as a “drip loop”, so that water trickling down the wire will run off the bottom bend instead of trying to get through your entry point. A US Navy veteran taught me this trick.

        1. So, to reply to everybody between my last post and this one, the 180 degree thing doesn’t do anything, it’s just a spark gap, basically?

          And yup, at that sort of voltage, “insulation” just means “resistor”. Same at every voltage, *technically*, but not something we normally worry about.

          Thanks for that! Shame Tim didn’t clarify what he meant, would have been interesting if it were true, but it reassures my existing knowledge of electricity that it isn’t!

        2. Drip loops and the more obvious idea of having cable bushings/connectors only at the bottom of junction boxes are good things to remember when installing things outdoors.

          A former coworker had set up a satellite dish for receiving TV channels using neither technique. After experiencing steadily degrading performance over some time he got on to the roof and opened the junction box and got the problem right in his face. Over time it had been filled with rainwater seeping through the the cable bushings but held inside due to the watertight lid. Drainage holes would maybe seem like a good idea, but then you would get condensation inside.

    2. Static electricity buildup on antennas is a major problem in desert and mountain environments where the air is dry and minute dust particles carry charges that accumulate. I have also seen sparks an inch or more in the mountains.

      A static bleeder was shown in HAD back in 2009. Personally, I just used some big megohm resistors across the feedline to bleed it away.

      I doubt this 2012 US Patent for an atmospheric static collector (balloon based) would be enforceable, given prior art going back to Tesla. How do these patents get issued?

      1. To answer you question on “how patents like these get issued?”. If we take a look at the last bits of the first claim, we see this:

        “an electrical flow sensor monitoring electrical flow through said conductor and generating an electrical flow indicia indicative of said electrical flow in said conductor; and
        a controller receiving said electrical flow indicia and selectively operating said winch motor such that said electrical flow indicia remains within a selected operating range.”

        If we pull up patent 7,855,476, we notice that the a similar piece was added to claim 1 just before allowance on that one.

        I believe, that this was the critical element that the examiner could not find in the prior art (or was unable to bring it in as part of a combination under a 103 rejection).

        Patent examination is based on what is in the claims, not what is in the specifications. In this case it looks like this is an enhancement to a well know system. Again, even though most of what is in claim 1 is available in prior art, the combination of what is known with the enhancement (the last bits quoted above) would make it a patentable invention.

        If anyone wishes to see the complete examination record, it is available in USPTO’s Public PAIR:

        http://portal.uspto.gov/pair/PublicPair

        Just put in the patent number, application number or publication number, click search and then click on image file wrapper.

        1. “an electrical flow sensor monitoring electrical flow through said conductor and generating an electrical flow indicia indicative of said electrical flow in said conductor; ”

          So… a resistor?

          “and a controller receiving said electrical flow indicia and selectively operating said winch motor such that said electrical flow indicia remains within a selected operating range.”

          Okay, but that’s basically just regulation through feedback. Same thing a thermostat does. Same thing anything regulated with negative feedback does. The principle is utterly obvious. The application of it, I can’t say I’ve thought of before, but then I never tried to think of a way to do that before. If I had, that’s the first thing I’d have thought of. Although I might have thought twice because it’s so simple you’d wonder if there’s a better way than just doing it mechanically with an electric winch.

          1. You hit the nail on the head right here “The application of it, I can’t say I’ve thought of before, but then I never tried to think of a way to do that before”. Applying known things together in a way nobody has though up before is what an invention is. The examiner cannot rely on hindsight to put together an obviousness rejection, in fact to use a rejection under 103 requires that the examiner put forth an explanation on how somebody skilled in the art would have arrived at the same conclusion using the references provided (in other words you look for clues within the references themselves that would allow you to tie them together). If the examiner can’t find anything, anywhere to tie the references together then there is a high probability that hindsight (using the disclosure provided by the applicant) is the reason why the combination of the references appear to be obvious. Add to this the time crunch examiners are under, a hefty level of legalese and the fact that the applicant can act as his own lexicographer and you see how application examination is not easily achieved.

          2. It’s interesting, and may well be invaluable, to have someone with your background here…

            But this isn’t just a case of 20/20 hindsight. This is obvious! I was being sarcastic in places, but the solution is the first thing anyone would think of. I don’t have any “references” for that, just the knowledge I have in science and whatever else. It’s nothing specialised, anybody with a bit of technical knowledge could think of that.

            I’m not talking about hindsight now I already know what solution the applicant used. I mean that, if you’d asked me to solve the problem, I may well have thought of the same thing, even if I didn’t know about this patent. Many people could have. It’s like patenting the idea of cleaning your arse by wiping it. If it didn’t already exist, somebody would think of it pretty quick.

            No inspiration, special skill, or talent, was needed to come up with that idea. Are you saying you have to judge the case on the references provided, you can’t use the general knowledge available in whatever field? Is it Wikipedia-style “no original research”?

            I’m sure time and businesses put enough pressure on patent examiners to grant them, so in practice lots of stupid stuff goes through. But I don’t think this one patent is justified from what I know of it.

          3. It is not that you have to judge the case on the references provided, it is that you must map each element of the claims to prior art (be it provided by applicant or found during a search by the examiner). To answer the “you can’t use the general knowledge available in whatever field?” question, the answer is sort of… You can rely on general knowledge on occasion by taking official notice (From MPEP, “In certain circumstances where appropriate, an examiner may take official notice of facts not in the record or rely on “common knowledge” in making a rejection, however such rejections should be judiciously applied”), however an official notice by the examiner is usually followed by the applicant requesting that the examiner provide proof of said “common knowledge” which is harder to find than one would actually expect. If an examiner can’t find a reference (other patent, product, non-patent literature, movie, tv show, etc…) where that claim element is detailed then it is allowable. You said “but the solution is the first thing anyone would think of.” and I don’t disagree, and you are also right that “it’s nothing specialised, anybody with a bit of technical knowledge could think of that”, but this guy was the first to write it down and send it to the USPTO, so unless someone can provide proof that they had documented the subject matter inclusive in the first claim before the applicant… he get his patent. He also gets to pay filing fees and maintenance fees for that patent for a while.

          4. After hitting Post on my previous reply I though of an issued patent that is related to your “idea of cleaning your arse by wiping it”, not quite the process of wiping, but definitely related. See US5716692. ;-) Background of the Invention is an interesting read.

          5. See, I thought patents couldn’t be “obvious”, but then that’s in the eye of the expensive lawyer, I suppose.

            No wonder Einstein quit patent clerking for a simpler job.

        2. Thanks for that link to PublicPair. It looks really useful.

          It is great having your patent insights here on HAD. Please comment often.

          Personally, I have always been too cheap to file for most of my inventions and I know I would not have the funds or inclination to pursue infringement, unless I was damn sure of succeeding.

  2. Wouldn’t the wire need to be insulated? And wouldn’t insulation, at such a high voltage, not make a difference? Since otherwise aren’t you just shorting out one bit of atmosphere to another?

    I realise it works, just a bit of a problem with how.

      1. Yeah, you can actually see this in the video at 4:40. We were so excited with it working that we didn’t notice the hexacopter was running low of power and had dropped a bit. The lower end of the wire was straight up a few seconds before that but then it draped down to the ground and at 4:40 the corona motor stops. If you look carefully you can watch the progress of the wire. It’s goes up from the right side of the coil and you can just make it out against the white part of the cardboard side for the coil..

  3. In the old HAD article, StevenD says that other researchers got about 0.1HP from their motor, years ago. 0.1HP is about 75W. You could use that to run your house in a poor country, with just a couple of lights and a radio. I wonder how practical this could be?

    I wonder how much air you need to provide the charge, surely eventually you’re going to suck the charge out of a particular piece of air? But then again, air drifts around. But would that mean there’s a limit to how many people could suck power from the atmosphere in a certain area?

    Still, even in a poor country there’s no shortage of air, and you can’t beat the price or simplicity, a bit of wire. A well-sealed Helium or even Hydrogen balloon might keep it aloft enough, or would a wooden post do? Perhaps using insulators to support the wire, stop the damp wood sucking too much current away. Since tropical countries often have severe storms in summer, does that mean there’s more power in the air there?

    A system where this powers a motor, which turns a generator, using a suitably long insulating pole for some protection against lightning, might be a good source of power. LEDs give useful light on low power, computers and phones can run on very little. Just depends how far from “science demonstration” this thing can go.

    1. After reading the link to Feynman’s textbook chapter on the subject, the source of this positive atmospheric charge is the mass of cloud-batteries all around the world, aka thunderstorms. Above a certain altitude the air acts less like an insulator and more like a conductor, thus fair-weather air masses are constantly having their charge replenished by the world’s thunderstorms.

      1. I LIKE this idea. All of the atmospheric energy projects I’ve seen (including one I worked on back in high school) fall flat when it comes to efficiently collecting the energy.

        However, my guess is that it first needs to be brought down to a reasonable voltage, which means charging a pretty good size capacitor. Then you can use a DC/DC switching supply to get to a regulated low voltage that can be used to charge batteries, for example.

        Another lack I see is actual MEASUREMENT of the POWER that can be gathered with a given height collector. Really? Everybody is still in the “proof of concept” stage? Everybody’s using motors that can run on a few milliwatts. Really? You’re doing all of this to collect a few milliwatts? I can get more than that with a crystal detector.

        Seriously folks, find a way of measuring a) the voltage, and b) the current under various loads, to determine the optimum load impedance. It’s not that hard – try a number of different resistors to ground, and hang an oscilloscope probe on it. Then apply one of the corollaries Ohm’s law, P = V^2/R to get the power. Of course, start with LOW resistances first, so you don’t blow out the ‘scope input.

        1. I dunno if you could build DC/DC convertor that’d work with what’s essentially static electricity. Ludicrously high voltages, pitifully small current. A transformer might work, but again it’d be a million turns to one (ok, maybe not quite). There’d be the problem of the transformer’s resistance / impedance not suiting the input voltage well. Voltage sags when you try draw too much current. In a way it’s like solar MPPT tracking, but all voltage and almost no current.

          I know static electricity is really the same as normal electricity, but they’re usually kept as separate domains.

          Not saying I know a transformer wouldn’t work, I’d love to be proved wrong cos it’d be great to see electronics powered by what looks like nothing.

          1. Actually my second plan… and MAYBE something Steven could try… attach magnets to the inside of the existing Sky Motor (I’ve just named it), and put a coil or two inside. Standard magnetic electricity generators are already very efficient, this method would do away with much of the weight, the need for gears, etc.

            Use small magnets at first, don’t want to load it too much, although loading will also be affected by how much current you try take from the coils, and the number of windings on the coils themselves.

            Getting it to light an LED or power a little radio would be fantastic!

          2. Re your magnets inside the “Sky Motor” idea, when you do that that puts a load on the motor which it needs to be able to overcome. There’s very little torque available, at least with this motor. But I’m keeping an eye on all the ideas here in case I’m able to work on this again next summer.

  4. Couldn’t you use a laser instead of a wire?
    Also, instead of a power source, couldn’t you simply use this concept to detect the voltage potentials at specific points across a cloud(s) in reference to a spot on earth? Basically use a laser to scan the sky and generate a EMF map in real time. Maybe a useful atmospheric tool? Maybe use it in conjunction with the power generating concept so you always have your power generating laser pointed at the highest potential?

  5. Voltage != Power. I would think HaD should know that.

    Atmospheric electricity is a perennial favorite with the Free Energy wackos, but has no practical application. The effort suspending a wire is not worth the power generated.

    Of course, Ayn Rand’s works are a perennial favorite for other types of wackos.

    1. I think the free energy dupes are very often, if not almost always ‘libertarian’.

      But these words have lost a lot of meaning in the last 60 years, as perpetual war has given way to ever more transparent, and now citizens of the west are dumb animals, sitting mute while atrocities are committed in our names.

    2. A prompt (historical) research on the subject will present information and facts contradicting your statement:
      Hermann PLAUSON patent from 1925: http://www.google.com/patents/US1540998
      and some additional info: http://rexresearch.com/plauson/plauson.htm

      Also would be good to research “sprites”, it may surprise you, to find what kind of power is oscillating (by periodically charge and discharge) in the dense-air (condenser) known as lower atmosphere. Note, that the upper one IS highly conducting, and only the lower ones behaves as a dielectric fluid.

      I would guess the practicality question can be decided quite easily if you were to try discharging a charged 1uF 1KV DC capacitor with your fingers (disclosure, I would not do that if I were you). Such a capacitor CAN be quire readily charged (for a given period of time, pending on different factors) with small balloon, lifted only 20-30 meters above the ground

  6. Oh ayn, so gloriously confused, misguided, and angry.

    Irony being that if someone did invent such a ‘free energy’ process, the ‘titans of industry’ she idolizes will be the very knaves to do everything they can to slow or stop it’s adoption.

    Meanwhile her ‘the creme rises to the top’ reductionist belief system is undone by the statistics – which show wealth is generational, inherited, and people are very unlikely to ascend in ‘class’.

    1. actually, someone did invent a “free energy” process and yes, energy companies have done a great job of stunting it’s advancement. it’s solar power and really, it should have been part of our electrical system decades ago.

      1. Energy companies are pretty simply to understand. They want money. They will generate electricity with whatever technology gives them the lost cost per Watt. Decades ago coal was super cheap, and solar panels were expensive, and nowhere near as efficient as they are today. Solar panels have gone down dramatically in price and are much more efficient. “In 1977, solar cells cost upwards of $70 per Watt of capacity. In 2013, that cost has dropped to $0.74 per Watt,” (source: The Economist) Right now fossil fuels are still cheaper, but not by much.
        http://www.economist.com/news/21566414-alternative-energy-will-no-longer-be-alternative-sunny-uplands

          1. Yup. The same subsidy to solar might well make the difference. But the powerful men of the world aren’t sun barons. There’s a couple of silicon billionaires, but they didn’t go to the right schools, haven’t been business buddies with the powerful for most of a century.

      2. Lets just forget about all the manufacturing and raw materials that go into making solar panels… And the maintenance and cleaning… and the finite life time… If you disregard all the actual costs (environmental and physical) then hell ya! FREE ENERGY!!!! OMG .. I just had an idea… what if we put your FREE ENERGY solar panels…….. IN THE ROADS!!!!

        1. You try to sound ironic and yet some people already had this stupid idea and meant it seriously. Roads are dirty, they are sometimes covered with snow and often just with cars. So better put them on the roofs.

        2. And then there’s the FREE ENERGY you can get if you harness the potential energy in water in lakes and rivers! And SO much FREE ENERGY in coal, natural gas, and uranium lying just under the ground for the taking! And BETTER than FREE ENERGY in thorium that rare earth refiners have to pay to get rid of! Why are we paying for electricity at ALL???!!!

  7. From a practical “what is this good for” viewpoint, wouldn’t this be good for a lightening risk detection system? It would give a clear indication of the amount of static electricity in the local vicinity. Very useful on mountaintop hiking trails.

  8. Hey, look, I don’t want to make anybody panic or anything, but …. Do you know what else is powered by static electricity? Daleks, that’s what. So stop these misguided experiments right now, before it’s too late.

  9. I’ll avoid any snarky commentary on the novel and just stick to the hacking.

    I’ve seen quite a few of these built and for the most part they’ve all turned little fans. Maybe a couple of them were geared down but I’ve never seen one actually accomplish useful work.

    Has anyone ever tried using atmospheric electricity to power a small microcontroller/etc. through a high efficiency DC-DC stepdown converter?

    I know tesla had talked about using a mechanical interrupter to switch a capacitor/transformer circuit and lower the voltage, which is essentially the mechanical version of a modern buck converter. (http://keelynet.com/tesla/00685958.pdf)

    1. I think the biggest issue is simply a matter of voltage. Most solid state components just aren’t make to work at 12KV or more. Neither are the coil insulation. You’d have to wrap your own with 20KV silicone wire or something, and then you’d have to stack FETs to reach that potential. The best FETs I can find quick are 4KV 2A, so you’d have to limit your output something less than 2A, which keeps your output voltage high. So, it would probably have to be a multi-stage DCDC, with at least a second stage. I’m also curious how much power this all would take to operate. Modern industrial DC-DC average around 90% power. However it’s not doing direct conversion of high voltage.

      1. You do not need a 20kV insulation on the wire. They voltage between each turn is much less. Think of the secondary of a tesla coil – a single layer winding – that’s the way to go. Of course you can not build a step down (buck) converter for this kind of application, you want a transformer.Something like a tesla coil in reverse :-) And a spark gap is potentially not the worst switching device for such a project.

        1. “And a spark gap is potentially not the worst switching device for such a project.”

          Unless you’re – I don’t know, maybe concerned about polluting the whole electromagnetic spectrum. After all, it’s not just a spark gap, but a spark gap connected to an antenna!

          People throw around statements about how this can’t be practical because solid state devices can’t take that kind of voltage, and yet we have DC transmission lines operating at 500 KV switched with semiconductors, and every home with a (CRT-based) color TV has semiconductor rectifiers good for at least 25 KV. And if you use a full-wave bridge, none of the devices have to block more than the output voltage because one or two diodes (depending on the circuit topology) is always on. Sure, you need a spark gap or other device to handle energies orders of magnitude higher than the design value (i.e., lightning arrestors) to protect the system, but we already have lightning arrestors for telephone and cable TV systems. It’s nothing new and nothing exotic.

    2. Some years back there was an example circuit in EDN for this. My google-fu is failing to turn it up at the moment, but the aerial wire is fed into the high-turn-count side of a conventional HV transformer, followed by a spark-gap to ground. Optional HV capacitor to ground above the coil. As long as the spark distance is set correctly, the voltage won’t get up too high, and the constant trickle of incoming electrons becomes a train of sparkovers at a known voltage and so a usable lower voltage at the secondary to rectify, dump into a cap or otherwise use as you please. It was said to be surprisingly efficient.

    1. Be interesting to see what kind of wattage you could generate AT ALL. Not that silver is THAT expensive, and last I checked, Teflon WAS a plastic, but I doubt that these would affect output power significantly. And yet I don’t see any numbers, anywhere. Yes, I agree, “lots of” voltage, “not so much” current. But “lots of” and “not so much” are not numbers. Really, has nobody measured any of this? Anybody?

        1. Thanks – that’s exactly what I was looking for – NUMBERS. If this is true, it makes it completely pointless to pursue this. Solar, wind, or even energy collected from daily cyclic changes in barometric pressure or temperature are far more practical for applications requiring long-term power in remote areas. Why waste time on something that even at 100% efficiency could barely power an LED?

          As for the “footprint” of a collector suspended in the air, keep in mind that this is AIR we’re talking about, which is a very poor conductor, so it’s not going to collect electrons (or disperse them) more than a few inches from the conductor, and even this will drop off quickly with current. So you can calculate the maximum area covered just by adding a little (but not much) to the actual area of your collector. Keep in mind that you are building one plate of a capacitor, so actual area is significant, not just the height above ground.

          1. Hm, so a plate would help?

            What about something like aluminised mylar, with several balloons, or even kites as some mentioned? Of course getting a kite up there, with a ton of mylar hanging off it… The mylar would have to BE the kite, I think, but that’s no more complicated than any other kite. Or tinfoil, for cheapness. There’s some pretty big kites you can fly, and at a certain altitude there’s enough wind to keep them up there for a long time, although that altitude might not be easy to get to.

            Still, flying a kite isn’t hard, and cheaper than a helium balloon. I wonder how much difference it would make? A kite-sized plate rather than a wire. Put a few points around the edge, if it’s spraying electrons into the aether. So that means the ground is negative, then?

            I can’t say I know it’ll work, but wouldn’t be too hard to try I think

          2. I think aluminized Mylar would be good for this, and it’s much stronger than aluminum foil.

            Kites take constant attention to fly. I’m not sure why, but whenever I’ve tried tying a kite to a fixed object, it has always stopped flying, almost immediately! Does anybody here have experience with getting kites to stay aloft when tethered? Balloons are much more reliable, although helium is kind of expensive. But you don’t need all of the Mylar to be inflated – you can use a reasonably cheap volume of helium to suspend a larger area of aluminized Mylar in the form of tail strips, maybe.

            If I were to do this, I might try hydrogen. You can’t really save helium between flights, and it finds ways to leak out of just about anything, so you have to refill for every day of flying, so the cost would add up. Yeah, yeah, Hindenburg, static electricity, sparks, flaming death, etc., etc., but for something that’s just a few cubic meters, if it DOES ignite, it should be completely consumed before it gets anywhere near the ground. But I’m not an expert on this, so don’t take this as advice.

        2. I should add, since it doesn’t make sense to accept the writing of one MIT grad student as gospel, if anybody can show documentation of any experiment that shows results that refute this rough number, I would be grateful to see it.

    1. Really? Yeah I know there’s voltage differences between different patches of land. Didn’t know anyone was using it, especially in 1840! It’s not just galvanic current from the metal conductors they buried in the ground (I imagine) corroding?

      You MUST give me a source for this, that’s amazing! Why didn’t they just use wet-cell batteries? Is this unmanned stations, where the occasional replacement would be a bother?

  10. Any structure tall enough to need a weather vein and has a connection to mains electricity anyway (especially sky scrapers and office buildings) might as well be switching some power into the grid.

    1. Well yeah, except the one day when your lightning conductor does it’s main job. You wouldn’t want that anywhere near the mains, especially in a building full of fragile appliances.

  11. So… If they patent their idea, then encourage people to experiment with their idea. Are they just trying to get free research which they will then take for themselves, or are these people actually legit and are just trying to keep the technology from being taken away from ‘the man’?

    1. :) It is. I’m sure it was a simple oversight not putting my name in brackets. Doesn’t really matter though, the link’s there to my website, the video’s mine and there’s a link to another of my projects on hackaday. I’m plenty credited in all those places. Thanks.

      1. Sure, but it’s usual to put the project builder’s name near the start of the article. I’m sure, as well, that it wasn’t on purpose. Just needs a little edit to fix it. Ladies and gentlemen, this bloke. ^^^^^^^

      2. You’re a bit more humbled than I would have been, kudos to you. Not that I would be upset, more likely confused on whether or not someone else had did the same and was talking about them. It kind of happen in reverse during the caption contest when I was credited for the quote of someone else. I was a bit pissed because taking credit for someone else’s work is counter to my exultation of what I believe are the three requirements of reason: imagination, intelligence, and the one I won’t stand to violate, integrity.

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