Building A Levitating Turbine Desk Toy

Magnetic levitation is a beautiful thing to watch. Seeing small objects wobble about while seemingly hovering in thin air never gets old. If you want something suitably distracting in this vein for your own desk, consider building this levitating turbine from [JGJMatt].

The build uses a combination of 3D printed parts and metal rods to form a basic frame.  The turbine is also 3D printed, making it easy to create the complex geometry for the curved fins. Rare earth magnets are then slotted into the parts in order to create the levitation effect. Two magnets are fitted to each frame piece, and one magnet is inserted into each end of the turbine. When aligned properly, the turbine will hover over the frame and can spin freely with almost no friction.

One concession made to functionality is a sewing needle inserted into the turbine. This presses against one part of the frame in order to keep the turbine from being pushed out of the magnetic field entirely. It’s possible that with very careful attention to detail in alignment, the pin could be eliminated, but it makes the system far more robust and reliable to have it there.

Floating in the magnetic field, a simple puff of air is enough to set the turbine spinning for quite some time. It makes for a captivating desk ornament, and one that can be tinkered with by changing the turbine blades for different performance. It may be frivolous, but at the larger scale, magnetic levitation is put to more serious uses like high-speed transport. Video after the break.

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China MagLev Train Aspirations Boosted By New 600 Km/h Design

Maglev trains have long been touted as the new dawn for train technology. Despite keen and eager interest in the mid-20th century, development has been slow, and only limited commercial operations have ever seen service. One of the most well-known examples is the Shanghai Maglev Train which connects the airport to the greater city area. The system was purchased as a turnkey installation from Germany, operates over a distance of just 30.5 km, and according to Civil Engineering magazine cost $1.2 billion to build in 2001. Ever since, it’s served as a shining example of maglev technology — and a reminder of difficult and expensive maglev can be.

However, China has fallen in love with high-speed rail transport in the last few decades and has invested heavily. With an aggressive regime of pursuing technology transfers from foreign firms while building out the world’s largest high-speed rail network, the country has made great progress. Now, Chinese rail transit manufacturer, CRRC Corporation, have demonstrated their newest maglev train, which hopes to be the fastest in the world.

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Magnetic Bearings Put The Spin On This Flywheel Battery

[Tom Stanton] is right about one thing: flywheels make excellent playthings. Whether watching a spinning top that never seems to slow down, or feeling the weird forces a gyroscope exerts, spinning things are oddly satisfying. And putting a flywheel to work as a battery makes it even cooler.

Of course, using a flywheel to store energy isn’t even close to being a new concept. But the principles [Tom] demonstrates in the video below, including the advantages of magnetically levitated bearings, are pretty cool to see all in one place. The flywheel itself is just a heavy aluminum disc on a shaft, with a pair of bearings on each side made of stacks of neodymium magnets. An additional low-friction thrust bearing at the end of the shaft keeps the systems suitably constrained, and allows the flywheel to spin for twelve minutes or more.

[Tom]’s next step was to harness some of the flywheel’s angular momentum to make electricity. He built a pair of rotors carrying more magnets, with a stator of custom-wound coils sandwiched between. A full-wave bridge rectifier and a capacitor complete the circuit and allow the flywheel to power a bunch of LEDs or even a small motor. The whole thing is nicely built and looks like a fun desk toy.

This is far from [Tom]’s first flywheel rodeo; his last foray into storing mechanical energy wasn’t terribly successful, but he has succeeded in making flywheels fly, one way or another.

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Levitating Starship Model Comes In For A Landing

If everything goes according to plan, Elon Musk says the first generation of SpaceX’s massive Starship will make an orbital flight before the end of 2020. That’s a pretty bold claim, but when you’ve made landing rockets on their tails as in the old science fiction pulp magazines seem routine, we suppose you’ve earned the right to a bit of bravado. We’re excited to see the vehicle evolve over the next several months, but even if the real one stays grounded, we’ll gladly take this “flying” Starship model from [Chris Chimienti] as a consolation prize.

A magnetic levitation module, we’re officially in the future.

Feeling a bit let down by the 3D printable models of the Starship he found online, [Chris] set out to build his own. But it wasn’t enough to just make his bigger, stronger, and more accurate to Starship’s current design; he also wanted to make it a bit more exciting. Some RGB LEDs an Arduino embedded in the “cloud” stand the rocket sits on was a good start, and the landing pad inspired by SpaceX’s real autonomous spaceport drone ship Just Read the Instructions looks great all lit up.

But this is Starship we’re talking about, a vehicle that could literally push humanity towards being a multi-planet species. To do it justice, you’ve really got to knock it out of the park. So [Chris] found a magnetic levitation module online that could support a few hundred grams, and set to work on making his plastic Starship actually hover over the landing pad.

As you might imagine, it was a bit tricky. The first versions of the rocket looked great but came out too heavy, so he switched over to printing the model in so-called “spiral vase mode” which made it entirely hollow. Now far lighter and with a magnetic plate fit into the bottom, it was stable enough to float on its own. For the final touch, [Chris] added some red LEDs and a coin cell battery to the base of the Starship so it looks like the sleek craft is performing a last-second landing burn with its “impossible” full-flow staged combustion engines.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a model rocket with an electronic glowing cloud under it, but it’s certainly the first one we’ve seen that could levitate in mid-air. While this little rocket might not make it all the way to Mars, we wouldn’t be surprised to see it touching down on the desks of other hackers and makers in the near future.

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Exquisite Craftsmanship Elevate Vic’s Creations Above The Rest

This booth was easy to miss at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 amidst tall professional conference signage erected by adjacent exhibitors. It showcased the work of [Dr. Victor Chaney] who enjoys his day job as a dentist and thus feels no desire to commercialize his inventions — he’s building fun projects for the sake of personal enjoyment which he simply calls Vic’s Creations. Each project is built to his own standards, which are evidently quite high judging by the perfect glossy finish on every custom wood enclosure.

Some of these creations were aligned with his musical interests. The Backpacking Banjo was built around a (well cleaned) cat food can to satisfy the desire for a lightweight instrument he can take camping. His Musical Laser Rainbow Machine (fully documented in Nuts & Volts) was created so little bands formed by independent artists like himself can have a visual light show to go with their live performances. The Music Kaleidoscope is another execution along similar lines, with an LED array whose colors are dictated by music. Venturing outside the world of music, we see a magnetically levitated Castle In The Clouds which also receives power wirelessly to illuminate LEDs

The largest and most complex work on display is an epic electromechanical masterpiece. Par One is a rolling ball sculpture featuring the most convoluted golf course ever. Several more rolling ball sculptures (also called marble machines or marble runs) are on display at Dr. Chaney’s office which must make it the coolest dentist’s lobby ever. The lifelike motions he was able to get from the automatons he built into the sculpture are breathtaking, as you can see below.

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Retrotechtacular: A Very British MagLev

When we look back to the 1970s it is often in a light of somehow a time before technology, a time when analogue was still king, motor vehicles had carburettors, and telephones still had rotary dials.

In fact the decade had a keen sense of being on the threshold of an exciting future, one of supersonic air travel, and holidays in space. Some of the ideas that were mainstream in those heady days didn’t make it as far as the 1980s, but wouldn’t look out of place in 2018.

The unlikely setting for todays Retrotechtacular piece is the Bedford Levels, part of the huge area of reclaimed farmland in the east of England known collectively as the Fens. The Old Bedford River and the New Bedford River are two straight parallel artificial waterways that bisect the lower half of the Fens for over 20 miles, and carry the flood waters of the River Ouse towards the sea. They are several hundred years old, but next to the Old Bedford River at their southern end are a few concrete remains of a much newer structure from 1970. They are all that is left of a bold experiment to create Britain’s first full-sized magnetic levitating train, an experiment which succeeded in its aim and demonstrated its train at 170 miles per hour, but was eventually canceled as part of Government budget cuts.

A track consisting of several miles of concrete beams was constructed during 1970 alongside the Old Bedford River, and on it was placed a single prototype train. There was a hangar with a crane and gantry for removing the vehicle from the track, and a selection of support and maintenance vehicles. There was an electrical pick-up alongside the track from which the train could draw its power, and the track had a low level for the hangar before rising to a higher level for most of its length.

After cancellation the track was fairly swiftly demolished, but the train itself survived. It was first moved to Cranfield University as a technology exhibit, before in more recent years being moved to the Railworld exhibit at Peterborough where it can be viewed by the general public. The dream of a British MagLev wasn’t over, but the 1980s Birmingham Airport shuttle was hardly in the same class even if it does hold the honour of being the world’s first commercial MagLev.

We have two videos for you below the break, the first is a Cambridge Archaeology documentary on the system while the second is a contemporary account of its design and construction from Imperial College. We don’t take high-speed MagLevs on our travels in 2018, but they provide a fascinating glimpse of one possible future in which we might have.

It does make one wonder: will the test tracks for Hyperloop transportation break the mold and find mainstream use or will we find ourselves 50 years from now running a Retrotechtacular on abandoned, vacuum tubes?

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Floating Death Star Is Just In Time

Unless you’ve been living under a high voltage transformer, you’re aware of the latest release in the Star Wars Saga.  [John] has a relative that is clearly a big Star Wars fan, so he set about to build them the perfect Christmas present – a levitating Death Star! Instead of reinventing the wheel, [John] decided to start off with a magnetically levitating model of the Earth –  a globe. He then took a Death Star mood lamp and gracefully cut it half with his trusty Dremel.

A nice twist for the mood lamp is that it was powered by a hacker’s best friend – five volts from a USB power supply. This made it easy to wire in a LiPo battery along with a charger and some fiber optic lighting.  A pile of cat litter to represent a smoldering planet blown to bits ties the whole build together as only cat litter can.

Be sure to visit [John’s] Instructable page for full details along with a video, which you can also see below.