Artist’s rendering of the Theseus cuebsat with a Cannae Drive | Image: Cannae, Inc./Theseus
So the news about Guido Fetta is a couple of months old at this point. Rather than being a combination of Star Wars villains, he’s actually the head of a company called Cannae Inc., and the maker of the “Cannae Drive” which (to most people) just looks like Robert Shawyer’s EmDrive: an odd-shaped box with microwaves bouncing about inside it.
Just how a box filled with microwaves could be expected to produce thrust, in what would require a serious revision of Newton’s Third Law of Motion (“equal and opposite reaction” and all that), is anybody’s guess. Being generous, this stuff is on the fringes of our understanding. If it works.
If it doesn’t, well, we know why it doesn’t.
So in what’ll probably be 2017, Cannae is going to send up a 6U cubesat (10cm x 10cm x 10cm) to 150 miles up, and try to use the drive to maintain its orbit at that height. See, normally these miniature satellites only stay up there for a few weeks, but if the drive works — and oh boy, is that a big “if” — it’ll stay up there longer. Fetta is planning six months. We’ll see.
Meanwhile Science Alert is reporting this week that Roger Shawyer has filed yet another patent on the EmDrive. He seems to do this periodically, with the newest “updates” in the latest patents. He also seems to think this somehow validates his ideas. Apparently when talking to the International Business Times, he said the following:
“This [patent filing with the UK Intellectual Property Office] is a proper, professional way of establishing prior ownership done by professionals in the patent office, and in order to publish my patent application, they had to first carry out a thorough examination of the physics in order to establish that the invention does not contravene the laws of physics.”
Now, let’s get one thing straight, as far as I can tell, patent offices are only there to prove you came up with an idea first, not to verify that your idea works, or even makes sense. Take for instance this patent, US 6960975 B1, for a
flying saucer “Space vehicle propelled by the pressure of inflationary vacuum state” filed in the US in 2005 (h/t to Mick West of Metabunk for that wonderful example and others). I can guarantee you this has not been built or demonstrated to function, and that there’s a really really high likelihood it doesn’t. All it means is it was much more convenient for the patent office to say “yeah sure, sounds original and maybe sorta plausible go ahead.”
Patents are to stop someone stealing your work, and if it can’t work, there’s no danger of it, so there’s no impetus for the patent office to care. If it’s not worth their time to try to convince you it doesn’t work, they can just say “sure,” and move on. The patent office does not conduct experiments.
Happy Monday Everybody.
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.