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Quantum Levitation Racing: Wipeout Videogame Made Real

Follow Antony

Anyone under the age of about 30 who grew up in the "PlayStation Generation" will have heard of the videogame Wipeout.

For anyone who hasn't, it's a game in which you pilot a futuristic anti-gravity racing ship around utopian race circuits. The original game was set in 2052, which back in 1997 seemed suitably far away for such a technology to develop.

Imagine our surprise when we learned that Wipeout already exists! Okay, so it's not quite full scale, but as you can see in the Youtube video above, those are genuine hovering vehicles, defying gravity as they rush around a miniature circuit.

So how does it all work?

The mini-Wipeout game works using "quantum levitation". When super-cooled (below -301 F), an electrically and magnetically neutral object coated with a ceramic layer - in this case, the ships - becomes a superconductor. This is an object that conducts electricity with no resistance, and no energy loss.

Still with us? Superconductive objects and magnetic fields repel, due to something called the Meissner effect. Non-superconductive magnetic tubes within the object allow the object to be "trapped" in a magnetic field.

You can find a more detailed description of the physics at quantumlevitation.com, but essentially, it all means that you can get objects to hover precisely above magnetic tracks, whatever shape those tracks are.

That means you can "race" two superconducting space ships above a magnetic racetrack and replicate the very effect you see in Wipeout.

Whether the technique has a practical application in everyday transport remains to be seen. Supercooling on any large scale would likely prove prohibitively expensive, and the logistics of superconductive transport on today's roads doesn't bear thinking about.

Similar magnetic systems are already in use in trains, such as Japan's 361 mph "Maglev" (magnetic levitation) train. The lack of friction in Maglev compared to regular trains allows huge speeds, with only air resistance proving a real barrier to the train's velocity.

It may not be the future of transportation, nor a future path for Grand Prix racing... but quantum levitation racing is still very, very cool.
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