This weekend Google held its second annual Google Solve for X event, which brings together big thinkers, inventors and innovators to show off moonshot science and technology that can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Last year they had speakers like X Prize founder Peter Diamandis, actress Geena Davis, inventor Saul Griffith, and Google’s Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin.
While Google hasn’t officially released the content from the event yet, this video (watch below) from one of the demonstrations has made its way onto YouTube. It was taken by investor Steve Jurvetson, and it’s a demonstration of a super cold superconductor puck that levitates above and around a magnetic track. A superconductor is a quantum state of matter where below a certain temperature a substance conducts electricity with no loss and also repels magnetic fields.
In the video the scientist takes the super-cooled puck and places it on top of the magnetic track. Because the superconductor repels the magnet, it is locked in place above it, and by adding a slight touch to the puck, it smoothly travels around the track, levitated above it.
Scientists have been doing these types of demonstrations for years, and I’ve embedded another more thorough demo video below that was done onstage at a TED event back in 2012. But these levitation characteristics of superconductors are interesting because they can be used for various applications. Superconductors are being used for superconducting cables for the power industry, for energy storage, for particle accelerators and for MRI machines.
In the TED video, which features Israeli entrepreneur and inventor Boaz Almog, he explains how the superconductor levitation is incredibly strong — it’s a 3-inch disk that levitates some 70,000 times its own weight. If such a technology was used for transportation, a small amount of chilled superconductors could levitate, say, a car or a train around a track.
To move these superconducting characteristics into commercial applications, scientists will have to lower the cost of developing and deploying the super chilled superconductors. Chilling something to such an extreme temperature requires a lot of energy, which is costly.
But getting these applications to market could deliver moon-shot style — 10X — gains across different sectors. That’s what Google’s Google X lab and Google’s Solve for X events are focused on: moving beyond incremental innovation and pushing moonshots. The Google X lab has hatched big ideas like driverless cars or Google Glasses.