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Not All Quadcopters Need Rotors; This One Flies With Magnets

There’s been an incredible proliferation of drones and quadcopters that aim to take over the skies, but all of them have use blades or balloons in order to fight the pull of gravity. In his latest video, Derek Muller, host of the YouTube channel Veritasium, takes a look at another, less obvious, method for getting things off the ground: spinning magnets.

Muller, the science edutainer who’s explored everything from new ways of thinking about quantum mechanics to how to burn off arm hair with lasers, looks at an Electromagnetic Levitation Quadcopter in his latest video, as well as how the principles it demonstrates may be used by future transportation technologies like the hyperloop.

The quadcopter is shown off by Casey Handmer, a “levitation engineer” from Hyperloop One, as well as a seated man who apparently can’t stop giggling at the wonder that is electromagnetism. (Hyperloop One, you may recall, is the company that nailed its proof-of-concept test for the new type of transportation back in May of 2016.)

In the clip above, Muller breaks down how Handmer’s EM quadcopter works, and it all comes down to magnetic fields. Muller notes that the 105-pound contraption is able to lift itself into the air thanks to the electromagnetic interaction between four spinning magnet arrays and a sheet of copper.

“Any time a conductor experiences a changing magnetic field, electric currents are induced in it, which create a magnetic field to oppose that change,” Muller says, “and in this case, the spinning magnetics induce currents in the copper sheet.”


Muller describes this particular configuration of magnets, known as a Halbach Array, at around minute three in the video.

Muller brings up the issue of two north magnets repelling each other and falling off so to speak, but Handmer notes that that doesn’t happen in the case of the Electromagnetic Levitation Quadcopter because “the magnetic fields that are induced in the copper sheet are a mirror image of the applied magnetic field [the one produced by the spinning magnets]” and that the effect happens fast enough that the current induced in the copper sheet simply follows around the spinning magnets.

Although we probably won’t see any EM quadcopters shooting spectacular aerial footage any time soon, this demonstration does show how electromagnetic levitation may lead to super fast transportation, which would be so perfect for a new network of underground tunnels

What are your thoughts on this beastly magnetic floater? Let us know in the comments below!

Images: Veritasium

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