While it almost seems like an insane fever dream from an otherwise brilliant inventor, Nikola Tesla’s plan to harvest energy straight out of the atmosphere and essentially give it away is more reality than fiction. It’s usually prohibitively difficult get that energy out of the atmosphere for several obvious reasons, although it is still possible to do as [lasersaber] shows with his most recent atmospheric motor.
To help solve some of the logistical problems of harvesting electricity from the atmosphere, [lasersaber] is using a Van de Graaff generator as a stand-in for the high voltage gradient that can be found when suspending a long wire in the air. He has been experimenting with high-voltage motors like this for a while now and has refined his designs for corona discharge motors like these to be big enough and have enough torque to drive a drill bit. The motors have a conductive rotor with a series of discharge tubes on the stator, and exposing a metal point on the wiring (where the atmospheric wire would attach) to a sufficiently high voltage will cause rotation. In this case, it’s around 30,000 volts but with an extremely low current.
There are a number of videos documenting his latest build, including this follow-up video where he drills an arbitrarily large number of holes in various materials to demonstrate its effectiveness. Even though he is using a Van de Graaff generator in these builds, he does also show them working with a wire suspended by a drone as well for proof-of-concept. He’s also become somewhat of an expert on high-efficiency and low-power motors and has a number of other interesting builds based on these concepts.