1: Invent antigravity. 2: Get comfortable.

To continue my occasional series on Designers who Really Just Want to Draw Cool Pictures, Not Make Anything That Can Actually Work, behold the Koo Touch "Cloud" sofa!

Dumb-ass floating sofa

They appear to be going for the same sort of thing that makes those levitating globes work, with active electromagnets (in this case hiding in the thing that looks like a giant face-down iPhone on the floor) using sensor feedback to keep the unpowered floaty bit that looks like Pigsy's cloud in place.

(Find more info about levitating globes and other such toys in the Cool Magnet Man electromagnetic-toy roundup; see also the same guy's magnet experiments and executive-toy collection!)

There are two problems with the Cloud sofa.

One: It is not easy to make a stable system that can hold an object up over an electromagnet, as opposed to holding it down under one.

It certainly is possible, though; look at the Levitron Anti-Gravity Globe, for instance. As Amazon reviewers point out, though, it's a bit tricky to get the globe into the sweet spot for floating, and then any small knock or touch, or stiff breeze for that matter, will push it out of balance, with catastrophic results.

So even if the makers of the cloud-sofa went to the trouble of putting multiple coils in the base unit and huge scary rare-earth magnets in the floaty bit, the moment someone sat on the darn thing it'd crash to the ground and mash one side of itself into the base.

Two: Assuming you managed to solve the instability problem, the field strength needed to get this thing off the ground at all with a human being in it would mean the electromagnets would have to be very, very powerful. You might not quite have to cool the magnets with liquid helium, but they definitely would need some kind of bad-ass cooling, and would probably also draw a lot more power than electricity authorities are willing to deliver to a residence.

(Note that if the person you want to levitate does not weigh more than an ant, pyrolytic graphite will get the job done.)

And, if you got your humungous floater magnets and 50-kilowatt lifter magnets and feedback system all in place, you'd have to make the whole room look like Magneto's plastic prison, to prevent people being nailed to the sofa-base by their belt buckle, sets of keys streaking across the room and taking someone's hand off, et cetera.

Look, I get that design students are given assignments that aren't marked by plausibility of product. But in that case, why not just make your product a teleporter, or a full-fledged antigravity flying belt, or an umbrella that turns rain into turkey sandwiches, if you don't care about making anything that can actually exist?

The hell of this is that it actually is possible to make a mag-lev lounge. And that lounge actually does look like something right out of Magneto's special jail; check it out!

Hoverit floating couch

The reason why this thing doesn't look very impressive compared with the Cloud is that it uses permanent magnets for levitation. There's only one way to do "proper" levitation using permanent magnets; you have to spin the levitator for stability. This is how the most famous Levitron product, the hovering top, works.

Anybody who's ever tried to get a Levitron top working will know that they're touchy little buggers - even worse than the Levitron globe - and obviously not a generally useful solution to the problem. Even if you managed to hide magnetic gyros inside a floating sofa-cloud, it'd be pretty much impossible to get the cloud to stay in place if a person tried to sit on it.

The more practical way to make a permanent-magnet levitator is to mechanically restrict the movement of the magnets in one way or another. The way of doing this that looks most like "real" levitation is to arrange your magnets so that the levitator wants to fall off in one particular direction, then put a support with some sort of low-friction bearing in the way. There are executive toys that work this way, and it can even be extended into a motor design - the solar "Mendocino Motor", for instance:

The Hoverit couch uses a much simpler arrangement, usually seen as a piston and cylinder. One magnet goes at the bottom of the cylinder, and the other one, turned to repel the cylinder magnet, is on a piston that you push down into the cylinder. This basically turns the magnets into a very-high-isolation spring, which has been used in some hilariously expensive audiophile turntables, and in add-on isolation feet for other audio components.

The Hoverit makes this look better by aligning the magnets only with the arm-rest pillars; the rest of the magnets are firmly held in the acrylic base and lounge parts, but unable to "fall off" each other because of the pillar assembly.

The result, of course, is just a bouncily-suspended hard plastic lounge chair, which I think has to be far less comfortable than a $10 banana lounge from a garage sale.

But at least it's physically possible.

18 Responses to “1: Invent antigravity. 2: Get comfortable.”

  1. corinoco Says:

    Meh. Architecture awards have usually gone to crap designs like this for ages. Top marks at university were awarded to unbuildable "pretty" pictures during the years I attended. The students begging for work these days seem to have the same disease, and can all afford 3DS Max too, I notice.

    Mention Derrida or deconstruction and I reach for my airsoft AutoMag .44!

  2. iworm Says:

    That chick on the bed died a few seconds before the picture was taken. The last thing she saw were a half-dozen nails from the platerboard ceiling above her coming loose... One also hopes this wasn't compounded by any, er, body piercings or suchlike.

    I had an MRI scan a couple of weeks ago, and those folks are really really paranoid (with rather a lot of justification) about ferrous metal being around. I wear a gold wedding ring, and the nurse said that it was OK to leave that on. I then spent a worried few minutes before the thing whirred into action thinking "What if I was done, and there's not much gold in it, but loads of iron or something..." Luckily, turns out it must be gold, since I've still got 10 fingers.

  3. peridot Says:

    I had my brain scanned with MRI too (now I have a backup on CD!) and they were indeed quite paranoid about metal (for good reason). But it seems that your problem must come up a lot - a patient who doesn't want to part with some metal object that shouldn't be ferromagnetic. Couldn't they reduce the doubts by having a moderately large NIB magnet (bolted down, outside the MRI room) you could touch your ring against and see if you felt a tug? After all they get close to 1 T fields, and the MRI field is only few teslas, albeit over a much larger volume...

  4. Daniel Rutter Says:

    For this same reason, I think even a solid iron ring on someone's finger wouldn't be a major safety risk. Even a 1-Tesla field won't rip the ring clean through your bone, after all - it'll just tug on it quite hard, but no harder than, say, a shopping bag with three litres of milk in it.

    Metal in MRIs is still unacceptable, because if it wiggles a body part around they won't be able to scan it, and I think it can also screw up the scan in some technical way. But to be a real danger, a piece of metal on a patient's person either needs to be decent-sized and poorly secured, or small and embedded in soft tissue. Metalworkers are apparently likely to have lots of little ferromagnetic shards embedded in all sorts of unlikely bits of their body. You really don't want to go near an MRI magnet if you've got a steel shaving stuck somewhere in your eye-socket.

  5. violet Says:

    To be fair, it is really cute. And you could probably manage to build it (well, something very much like it, anyway) with one or two thin supports anchored to the ceiling, coupled with a nice stabilization system.

    Its design is also nicely amorphous, so it could change its shape if you installed fluid bags or something underneath the padding.

  6. violet Says:

    Also: I think the main issue with designing, say, a teleporter, is that the object's method of action and the way people use it is extremely unclear. It's pretty clear what you do with a cloud-couch, or a magnet-gravity-lamp, even if it turns out that those things don't actually work. We have couches, after all, and we have lamps, and those designs are just riffs on the basic concepts.

    It's less clear how to design a teleporter, since we don't really understand how teleporters fit into peoples' lives. Likewise, umbrellas that turn rain into turkey sandwiches (except we have those, and we call them “rooftop turkey farms,” and they are much less design-sexxay than the vegan versions).

  7. TwoHedWlf Says:

    I think it's pretty clear how teleporters would fit into peoples lives. I'm here, I want to be there. *Poof* I'm there. After a while more intricate uses would be developed I'm sure. Tower generators that make power by dropping large weights through magnets then teleporting them back to the top...:)

  8. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Its name is Cloud. It lacks a sword.

  9. SA Penguin Says:

    If you're going for cool-but-impossible gadgets, you can't beat X-Ray glasses. Especially the ones that see through (female) clothing but leave everything else intact.

    After all, who'd want glasses that make a woman naked, but also turn her face into a skull?

  10. Kagato Says:

    "You really don't want to go near an MRI magnet if you've got a steel shaving stuck somewhere in your eye-socket."

    Thank you for that delightful mental image that I can never un-imagine.

  11. DBT Says:

    Further to the PA reference, wasn't it Homer Simpson that set his teleporter up between the refrigerator and the infamous moulded (but otherwise traditional) sofa, to facilitate beer consumption?

    I'm sure Dr Karl has mentioned examples of unintended eyeball displacement during MRI scans, due to embedded metal shavings. I recall he mentioned the associated ... viscera ... prevented a complete detachment, and the organ was successfully re-implanted with no(?) loss of function.

    Apparently all the executives in the room were very impressed.

  12. Thuli Says:

    A magnetic hammock 'slung' from above would have had a similar impact but actually been possible, opportunity missed.

  13. Zarquon Says:

    It was Monkey's flying cloud, not Pigsy's.

  14. Daniel Rutter Says:

    No, it was Pigsy's. Monkey's cloud (in the TV show, anyway) was pink; when Pigsy manages to summon one, he gets a white one.

    (No, wait - at some point someone's burning around on a stinky green cloud, and I distinctly remember Pigsy propelling his cloud by blowing his nose, which would fit. In any case, I definitely didn't mean Monkey's pink one. :-)

  15. John Stevenson Says:

    Aside from the trivial question of the impossibility of making this work, the desperate lack of thinking here is staggering. This designer has hit on the idea of anti-gravity and used it to replace... the legs on a sofa.

    Imagination fail. Prepare to be beaten to death with a hardback copy of Cities in Flight.

  16. corinoco Says:

    I'm pretty sure at one point Monkey had a dogfght with a demon on a green cloud, and it had handlebars a'la Harley Davidson.

    Or.... I might have dreamt that.

  17. Alex Whiteside Says:

    Thuli: As you loaded a magnetic hammock, you'd increase the distance between the magnets, reducing the force they exert on each other. Meaning that as you loaded it, the magnetic "springs" would get softer and softer until they rather abruptly yielded. At least loading a magnetic chair, the strength of the "springs" increases with load.

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