Georgia Tech Researchers Defy Standard Laws of Physics

Technology Partial Sphere

Researchers have proven that when bodies exist in curved spaces, they can in fact move without pushing against something.

Robotic Motion in Curved Space Defies Standard Laws of Physics

When humans, animals, and machines move throughout the world, they always push against something, such as the ground, air, or water. Until recently, physicists thought this to be a constant, following the law of conservation momentum. However, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) have now proven the opposite – when bodies exist in curved spaces, it turns out that they can in fact move without pushing against something.

These findings were published on July 28, 2022, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the paper, a team of scientists created a robot confined to a spherical surface with unprecedented levels of isolation from its environment, so that these curvature-induced effects would predominate. The researchers were led by Zeb Rocklin, assistant professor in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech.

“We let our shape-changing object move on the simplest curved space, a sphere, to systematically study the motion in curved space,” said Rocklin. “We learned that the predicted effect, which was so counter-intuitive it was dismissed by some physicists, indeed occurred: as the robot changed its shape, it inched forward around the sphere in a way that could not be attributed to environmental interactions.”

Experimental realization of a swimmer on a sphere with actuated motors on a freely rotating boom arm. Credit: Georgia Tech

Creating a Curved Path

The scientists set out to study how an object moved within a curved space. They needed to confine the object on the sphere with minimal interaction or exchange of momentum with the environment in the curved space. To do this they let a set of motors drive on curved tracks as moving masses. Then they connected this system holistically to a rotating shaft so that the motors always move on a sphere. To minimize friction, the shaft was supported by air bearings and bushings. To minimize the residual force of gravity, the alignment of the shaft was adjusted with the Earth’s gravity. 

From there, as the robot continued to move, gravity and friction exerted slight forces on it. These forces hybridized with the curvature effects to produce a strange dynamic with properties neither could induce on their own. The research provides an important demonstration of how curved spaces can be attained and how it fundamentally challenges physical laws and intuition designed for flat space. Rocklin hopes the experimental techniques developed will allow other researchers to explore these curved spaces.

Applications in Space and Beyond

Although the effects are small, as robotics becomes increasingly precise, understanding this curvature-induced effect may be of practical importance, just as the slight frequency shift induced by gravity became crucial to allow GPS systems to accurately convey their positions to orbital satellites. Ultimately, the principles of how a space’s curvature can be harnessed for locomotion may allow spacecraft to navigate the highly curved space around a black hole.

“This research also relates to the ‘Impossible Engine’ study,” said Rocklin. “Its creator claimed that it could move forward without any propellant. That engine was indeed impossible, but because spacetime is very slightly curved, a device could actually move forward without any external forces or emitting a propellant – a novel discovery.”

Reference: “Locomotion without force, and impulse via dissipation: Robotic swimming in curved space via geometric phase” by Shengkai Li, Tianyu Wang, Velin H. Kojouharov, James McInerney, Enes Aydin, Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin, Daniel I. Goldman and D. Zeb Rocklin, 28 July 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2200924119


View Comments

  • Although I haven't even attempted to reproduce those experiments, it reads and looks (e.g. the video) that it is their 'Standard Laws' that need adjustment, not the shape of space. As I attempted to begin demonstrating in 2012 (e.g. "1Gravity:", I've found independently that gravity radiates outward from all objects in curling, spiraling lines of attractive force which ultimately manifest as a generally spherical field around each object with a relative center of gravity, becoming a single coherent field when two or more objects combine to form a larger object.

    • Rodkeh, if you are commenting on my comment, I have to agree; I just can't seem to convince them of a serious flaw in their theory of 'space-time.'

  • If any of this is found to be proven... It would be likely to say traveling via space could be done at a much more excelercated pace than thought

  • The geometry of the contraption causes a change in the center for gravity, when moving the weights on the vertical path. This changes the center of gravity nearer to and farther from the supporting rod at the center of rotation.

    The horizontal weights then act upon the modified center of gravity, to exert leverage on the armature.

    Surprise! Newton was right, and the experiment is flawed. The center of gravity moves, and acts as a fulcrum. How is this not obvious, if a layman like me can spot the flaw so easily?

  • Note I am not a scientist Physics or otherwise but I am curious that they stated that gravity & friction where minimized. But evidently that's what they were using to move the robot "These forces hybridized with the curvature effects to produce a strange dynamic with properties neither could induce on their own." So why minimized them?
    Also full disclosure I was fired from Tech. (Was on the support side non-scientist/teacher)

  • ... Well, there are particles that don't have mass, but there is an energy of a particle.
    However, there is famous equation, which say that mass and energy are the same thing, this would create mess in any theory, but because it is a modern physics it is okay... there is reasonable explanation that will make me sleep after few rows...

Georgia Institute of Technology

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